Judge Weighs Lawsuit against Priest

By Rocco LaDuca
The Observer-Dispatch [Utica NY]
October 19, 2004

UTICA -- A state Supreme Court judge heard arguments Monday related to a hearing that would decide if a $150 million lawsuit still can proceed against a Catholic priest accused of negligence in the drowning death of a young boy 36 years ago.

Attorneys for the Rev. James F. Quinn argued before Justice Robert Julian that too many years had passed since 12-year-old Albert Piacentino drowned during a 1968 church picnic for altar boys from St. Agnes Church in East Utica.

Quinn, who was assistant pastor at St. Agnes at the time, is facing negligence allegations that he wasn't present at the outing when Piacentino drowned as he swam with other boys.

In a separate action, Quinn also is accused of repeatedly sexually abusing John Zumpano in the 1960s, beginning when Zumpano was an eighth-grade student at St. Agnes.

Quinn's attorneys declined to comment after the court appearance.

Zumpano's lawyer, Frank Policelli, said that while he was investigating that case in 2003 he uncovered information indicating Quinn may have failed to adequately safeguard the children at the picnic.

After Piacentino drowned, the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse issued a statement that Quinn was present at the camp at the time of the drowning, and that he had organized a search for the missing boy before police arrived, Policelli said.

But John Zumpano's brother, Donald -- who was at Camp Nazareth with Piacentino and the other boys -- said that Quinn was nowhere to be found when it was apparent Piacentino was missing, Policelli said.

When Donald Zumpano called St. Agnes' rectory in Utica for help, he found Quinn there -- an hour away from camp, Policelli said.

Based on these findings, Policelli argued that the three-year statute of limitations in this case did not apply because Quinn and the Diocese had intentionally deceived the family to prevent them from taking timely action against Quinn, Policelli said.

"We have to prove that Quinn was negligent and that (Quinn and the Diocese) lied to these people so the family wouldn't sue them," Policelli said.

But once Albert Piacentino's mother, Anna Marie, learned last year that Quinn might not have been present when her son died, she filed the civil lawsuit against Quinn and the Catholic Diocese.

Policelli argued in court Monday that because Donald Zumpano has knowledge of the circumstances regarding the lack of supervision at the camp, he should be examined to prove that Quinn concealed the facts.

Donald Zumpano, however, is living in Florida and is reluctant to cooperate because of his concern for his brother's "fragile mental state" as a result of his alleged past sexual abuse by Quinn, Policelli stated in court papers.

So Policelli asked that Julian request a Florida court subpoena Donald Zumpano for a videotaped deposition.

Policelli also requested the presence of a jury at the hearing because if it is found that the statute of limitations in Piacentino's death has not expired, then Quinn could be tried for negligent supervision.

Julian is expected to issue his decision on these matters in the next several days.


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