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  Couple Accepts Settlement in Sex-Abuse Case against Priest

By Dave Condren
Buffalo News
August 13, 1996

When a Michigan woman and her husband filed a sex-abuse suit 17 months ago against a priest and the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, they said it was a last resort because the diocese refused to acknowledge the abuse the woman suffered at the hands of a priest 20 years ago and because they needed help to pay their mounting medical bills.

Now they have accepted an undisclosed amount of money and signed a settlement agreement that ends the litigation. But they say it does not mean the abuse never happened. They also have another regret.

"No one from the diocese has ever said, 'We are sorry for your suffering,' " said Colleen McMullin Ptak, a Buffalo native now living near Flint, Mich.

"They could have saved me and my family a lot of pain if they acknowledged there was a problem, said, 'We're sorry' and helped pay the bills for my counseling," she said. "It could have been handled quietly, and they could have saved themselves money."

The priest, the Rev. Robert J. Biesinger, resigned as pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Cheektowaga two years ago. He has since turned 65 and retired.

"He went on a leave of absence and has not functioned publicly as a

priest since he left St. Al's, and I don't see that happening," Monsignor Robert J. Cunningham, chancellor of the Buffalo diocese, said last week.

The suit, seeking $ 20 million in damages, was filed in March 1995 by Mrs. Ptak and her husband, Stanley, also a Buffalo-area native.

It accused Father Biesinger of sexually assaulting and abusing Mrs. Ptak when she was a 15-year-old high school student during a school-related trip to Chicago for a drill-team competition.

Mrs. Ptak, who claims she blocked the abuse out of her mind until January 1994, charged that the priest repeatedly molested her in August 1974 in the Chicago hotel where the drill team, the Baker-Victory "Guys and Dolls," was staying.

Father Biesinger was director and coach of the drill team. Mrs. Ptak was a member.

Terence M. Connors, attorney for the diocese, said he is prohibited by the settlement agreement from discussing it in any detail.

"Simply put, the case against the diocese has been dismissed. Subsequent to the dismissal, the insurance carrier for Father Biesinger paid some of the past counseling expenses for Mrs. Ptak," he said.

"The payment," Connors stressed, "was made without any admission of liability whatsoever."

Samuel A. Ragnone, the Flint attorney who represented the Ptaks, also declined to discuss details of the settlement but acknowledged that "it did involve compensation."

"We still stand by our allegations and our claims, and as a result of those allegations and claims the case has been settled," he said.

When the suit was filed in March 1995, Ragnone said, the diocese had been told that, in addition to the Chicago incidents, Mrs. Ptak also alleged that Father Biesinger had abused her in the faculty house at the former Baker-Victory High School in Lackawanna, in the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Delevan, where he served as pastor, and in her childhood home in South Buffalo.

Father Biesinger was on the faculty at Baker-Victory from 1968 to 1975.

Mrs. Ptak, 38, said she is "disappointed by the church's lack of compassion," and that she never had the opportunity to confront Father Biesinger and diocesan officials in a courtroom.

Meanwhile, her husband is angry about the language of the settlement agreement. The order signed by U.S. District Judge Wayne A. Andersen says the suit has been "dismissed by stipulation of the parties."

In addition, the agreement signed by all parties says that "if any inquiry is made" they will respond that "the action has been dismissed."

On the other hand, Ptak is pleased that the agreement, at his insistence, he says, imposes a gag order regarding only the amount of the settlement.

 
 

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