Greater Transparency: Church Abuse Victim Sees Chance for Justice
By Steve Buchiere
Finger Lakes Times
February 1, 2019
|Peter Saracino holds an old photo of the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary of Lochland Road in Geneva, where he says a monk abused him when he was a child.|
When a bill that would extend the statute of limitations on child molestation cases breezed through the state Legislature this past week, there weren’t many people happier than Peter Saracino.
Saracino, a native of Seneca Falls and a retired Marcus Whitman teacher, says a Capuchin priest at a former Catholic seminary in Geneva abused him when he was 8 or 9.
The former Geneva seminary on Lochland Road was run by the Capuchin Friars of the Province of the Sacred Stigmata of Union City, N.J. It is now the upscale Geneva On the Lake resort.
In a meeting with local press last summer, Saracino made public the name of his accuser, whom he said Monday is still an active priest in New Jersey. He provided a photo as well.
The Finger Lakes Times has not divulged his name because there has been no official acknowledgement of the abuse by the Order.
During that press event last summer, Saracino also expressed his frustration with the inability of the state Legislature to get the Child Victims Act passed. The measure had sailed through the Democratic-controlled Assembly several times, but Republican leadership in the Senate, which controlled that house, refused to allow a vote.
Saracino, a longtime advocate for church abuse victims, said the Catholic Church had spent millions lobbying against the bill.
But the November election changed the landscape. Republicans lost their majority in the Senate, and Democrats took charge, with the Child Victims Act one of conference’s top priorities.
On Monday, it passed unanimously in the state Senate and nearly unanimously in the Assembly, with the region’s three assembly members, Brian Kolb, Brian Manktelow and Phil Palmesano, all voting in favor.
Saracino said he was “very grateful, overjoyed and relieved” about its passage.
“It’s been 16 years in the making,” he said. “It has been said that God’s wheel grinds slow, but it grinds fine, and the wheel has finally done its work — with the help of hundreds of survivors and their advocates.”
Current state law gives victims until age 23 to file civil cases or seek criminal charges. Under the act, victims can file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28.
The one-year litigation window for past claims now barred by the statute of limitations has been the sticking point, with large private institutions such as the Catholic Church warning that it could cause catastrophic financial harm to any organization that cares for children. The church also had opposed a loophole in the law that they said would have unfairly shielded public schools.
The church said it supports the extension of the statute of limitations going forward, however, and recently dropped its opposition to the overall bill after the sponsors agreed to make it apply equally to public and private institutions.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will sign it into law.
Saracino said he plans to take legal action against the Capuchin Friars of the Province of the Sacred Stigmata, whom he said he has approached about his allegations. Saracino said they concluded “it was my word against his (the monk),” and the priest was allowed to continue in the ministry.
Saracino sees a brighter day ahead with the legislation’s passage.
“In the end this is about children in the state of New York,” he said. “I hope it will lead to greater transparency and accountability within the church; help us locate where predators are; shift the cost of the abuse to the ones who caused it; and finally, deliver justice for survivors and their families.”
However, Saracino predicts a rough period is ahead for the church.
“If lawsuits are filed, complicit bishops may undergo uncomfortable depositions and be discredited and disgraced when their corruption is unmasked,” he said. “Secrets and careers may no longer be protected.”
He said the church may continue to see its membership decline, “appalled by the continued scandal and its coverup.”
Maybe just as importantly, said Saracino, is that the legislation “will also make the church in New York state a safer place for children to be — a fact that should relieve every Catholic parent and grandparent.”
The Archdiocese of Rochester posted a statement from New York State bishops on passage of the Child Victims Act.
It reads in part: “We pray that passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation. The legislation now recognizes that child sexual abuse is an evil not just limited to one institution, but a tragic societal ill that must be addressed in every place where it exists.
“Sadly, we in the church know all too well the devastating toll of abuse on survivors, their families, and the extended community. Every Catholic diocese in New York has taken important steps to support survivors of child sexual abuse, including the implementation of reconciliation and compensation programs. We are proud that these pioneering programs have not only helped more than a thousand survivors of clergy abuse in New York, but have also become a model for how to help survivors in other states and in other institutions.”
Includes reporting from The Associated Press.