Child Victims Act Lawsuit Charges Award-winning Counselor with Sex Abuse, Baseball Bat Attack
WHEC News 10 NBC
August 29, 2019
The New York State Child Victims Act has brought three new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse in Rochester and Dansville decades ago.
Each lawsuit names the Catholic diocese of Rochester as a defendant.
But one also accuses an award-winning counselor, not a priest, who has never been named publicly before.
The allegations in the lawsuit -- if true -- would put someone in prison for a long time. So News10NBC questioned the lawyer about publicly accusing a private citizen of horrible things who has never been accused before.
There's no doubt.
What is alleged to have happened to a young man named J.O. almost 50 years ago is terrible. The lawsuit says he was sexually abused and beaten with a baseball bat.
"He's attempted suicide and it's just been a traumatic experience," said Dan Ellis, J.O.'s attorney.
Ellis read a statement on J.O.'s behalf:
"And what he says is 'the very people who were entrusted to care for and protect vulnerable children betrayed that trust and failed in their mission. They must be brought to account and justice must be served."
The allegations are against a priest, Father Austin Hanna who died in 2006 at the age of 97 and a counselor at the former Wellington Group Home in Rochester. The home was run by DePaul, which is named as a defendant.
The lawsuit says the counselor still works at DePaul in a senior role and now he is now publicly named as doing something criminal in the '70s.
Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "And I'm wondering if that's fair?"
Dan Ellis, Herman Law: "Right, well what I say is not fair is for victims to have to suffer with this for decades... So we'll still have to prove our case in court and just because he's accused obviously does not mean these acts occurred but as I've mentioned, these cases have been thoroughly vetted."
Brean: "But the mere mention of his name attached to this kind of allegation, is a scarlet letter, is it not?"
Ellis: "Well, I don't know that. And as I said the legal process will determine whether or not he'll be liable."
Brean: "So how long have you investigated this case?"
Ellis: "We've investigated for some time now, for several months."
The lawyer says they have witnesses.
I called the cell phone of the DePaul employee. There was no answer and no voicemail.
DePaul did issue this statement:
"DePaul first learned of the lawsuit when contacted by a reporter earlier today and we have no records of any complaints being made in 1981 when this was alleged to have occurred. While we do not comment on pending litigation, the safety and well-being of everyone in our care is our first priority and we will thoroughly investigate these allegations."
When I asked what the status of the employee is, DePaul says it does not comment on former or current employees.
There are dozens of lawsuits filed in Monroe County under the provision of the Child Victims Act, which opened a one year window for alleged victims to sue their abusers and the places they worked no matter how long ago it happened.
There are a total of 37 lawsuits that name the Diocese of Rochester as a defendant. In 10 of the lawsuits, the complaints do not list specific priests but describe them as "Does 1-5 unknown to the plaintiff."
Nineteen priests are named as defendants or named in the complaint. One layman is named. One seminarian is named.
Of those 19 priests, Fr. Robert O'Neill is named 12 times. O'Neill is listed on the DOR's "Disposition" webpage.
The DOR says O'Neill died before the complaints against him were resolved.
Of the 19 priests named, 12 are new. They do not appear on the DOR's Disposition list. Of those 12, six are deceased.