Lawsuits against Diocese Allege Horrific Abuse at Rochester Homes for Needy Kids
By Steve Orr
Democrat & Chronicle
August 29, 2019
New lawsuits allege that a boy was repeatedly molested by a priest in the chapel at St. Joseph's Villa in the 1970s and that same victim was then savagely abused as a teenager by a staff member while living in a DePaul group home during the 1980s.
The incidents at the DePaul home in Rochester and St. Joseph's Villa, a residential facility for troubled young people in Greece, were connected only by the fact that the victim was the same — a boy orphaned at age 5 in a constant search for a new home.
The alleged victim's lawyer, Dan Ellis, said it may be no coincidence that his client escaped from one hellish situation only to wind up in another.
"We’ve seen it often. I think a predator can sense someone who’s been victimized, and they prey on that," he said Thursday.
A third lawsuit on behalf of a different plaintiff lays new allegations against Eugene Emo, a defrocked priest who worked in the Rochester diocese and who already has done time in state prison for other sexual misconduct.
The three cases were filed late Wednesday by the firm where Ellis works, Herman Law, under provisions of the Child Victims Act, the new state law that allows people to bring suit over old cases of child sexual abuse.
The legal claims against St. Joseph's Villa and DePaul bring to three the number of cases filed under the Child Victims Act against local homes for needy youths.
Orphaned and abused
The plaintiff in two of the suits, who is not identified by name, said he lost his parents when he was 5 and was sent to live in orphanages and foster homes.
The boy wound up at St. Joseph's Villa in 1973. The abuse began when he was 8 years old and continued until he was sent to a foster home at age 12.
The lawsuit claims that Rev. Austin Hanna, the home's well-known chaplain, fondled and later sodomized the plaintiff many times, often in the chapel or in the priest's adjoining apartment.
The repeated rapes caused rectal bleeding. When a nun identified in court papers as Sister Betty found his underwear soiled, she allegedly beat the boy but failed to investigate how the boy's injuries had occurred.
When she found soiled underwear again, the nun allegedly hit the boy in his genitals and ordered him to confess his sins to Hanna, who responded by forcing the boy to perform oral sex on him.
The lawsuit names the Rochester diocese as a co-defendant because St. Joseph's Villa, now known as the Villa of Hope, was an arm of Catholic Charities during most or all of the time of the alleged abuse. It became an independent entity in 1976, according to online histories.
A spokesperson for St. Joseph's Villa said the institution doesn't comment on pending litigation and could say nothing about the lawsuit.
|Dan Charcholla of Chili, referees a basketball game on January 31, 2008 at DePaul, at not-for-profit agency where he has worked for 27 years. (Photo: File photo/Will Yurman)|
The orphaned boy bounced between foster homes from ages 12 to 16, when he petitioned a judge for emancipation. A social worker referred the plaintiff to programs for people in his situation that were operated by DePaul Mental Health Services.
He moved into a DePaul group home for young people on Wellington Avenue in southwest Rochester in 1981.
It was there that the teenager encountered Dan Charcholla — who was director of DePaul's recreation center and still holds that job today — whom he now accuses of sexually and physically assaulting him over the next two years.
The accuser said he was forced to engage in sex acts, tied up, beaten and anally raped with a baseball bat, pierced with dirty needles and kidnapped and held in the staff member's home for a week filled with sexual abuse.
|Dan Charcholla, D&C file photo (Photo: Yes-GRN)|
He said a second staff member also sexually abused him at one point.
The plaintiff said he was hospitalized twice as a result of the abuse; the second time after he attempted suicide.
Officials at DePaul never investigated his injuries and did not allow him to file a formal complaint, the man alleges.
The plaintiff left the DePaul home when he was 18. He lives somewhere in New York state today.
Ellis, the lawyer, acknowledged that neither Rev. Hanna nor Charcholla had been publicly accused of abuse before.
"Just because he's accused does not mean these acts have occurred. But we feel very comfortable going forward, Ellis said.
He said the allegations have been "vetted thoroughly" over a period of several months, and that lawyers have been in contact with a second former resident of the DePaul home who claims he also was sexually abused by Charcholla.
The victim also was able to recall the names of other staff people who witnessed events who will be called upon to verify the plaintiff's man’s story.
Charcholla did not respond to an email Thursday morning.
In a statement emailed late Thursday afternoon, DePaul Adult Care Communities, as the organization is now known, said it could not comment on the lawsuit, about which officials had learned only Thursday morning.
The statement said DePaul was investigating the allegations and had so far found "no records of any complaints being made in 1981 when this was alleged to have occurred.
""The safety and well-being of everyone in our care is our first priority," the statement said.
DePaul declined to comment on Charcholla's employment status, citing privacy policies. But his name had been removed from the public staff directory on DePaul's website by late Thursday afternoon.
DePaul, one of Rochester's larger nonprofits, operates residential facilities of many types and provides support services for people in need.
The lawsuit also names the Diocese of Rochester as a defendant along with DePaul, which was started as an arm of the diocese's Catholic Family Center in the 1950's. DePaul spun off as an independent entity with its own board in 1979, according to online histories.
The facility on Wellington moved to a new location in Gates in 1989, according to a newspaper story.
The Rochester diocese declined to comment on any of the lawsuits "out of respect for the claimants and the legal process."
Emo accused again
The third lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Herman law firm alleges that Emo, who was ordained a priest in the Rochester diocese in 1961, sexually abused a boy while Emo was serving as assistant pastor in St. Mary parish in Dansville, Livingston County.
A separate plaintiff, who is not identified in court papers, said Emo fondled and groped him multiple times in the late 1960s or early ’70s. The abuse occurred in the church, the rectory and at a cabin where Emo stayed.
Emo was arrested in 1996 by the New York State Police on charges he sexually abused a developmentally disabled man who was incapable of consenting.
He pleaded guilty the following year to one count of sexual abuse. He received a six-month jail sentence by later violated his parole by associating with a teenage boy and spent nearly two years in state prison.
The Democrat and Chronicle reported after his arrest that Emo had been haunted for year by accusations of misconduct with boys and young men, and that a number of people had come forward to allege sexual abuse.
The statute of limitations in place at the time prevented those alleged victims from pursuing criminal charges or civil suits against Emo. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is the first specific public accusation against him since his 1996 arrest.
Emo was removed from the priesthood after his arrest. He lives in Florida and is registered as a sex offender.