Diocese, Priest Appeal Molestation Suit Ruling

By Michael Zeigler
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
January 15, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester and one of its priests asked an appellate court Monday to dismiss a civil lawsuit filed by a teenager whom the priest admitted molesting.

Arguing before a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, lawyers for the diocese and the Rev. William D. Lum said a judge in Syracuse erred when he refused to throw out the suit.

Lawyer David Rothenberg, who represents the diocese, argued that the diocese shouldn't be held responsible because it didn't know of the priest's actions until 1995, three years after they occurred. After allegations were made against Lum, diocesan officials removed him from his Greece parish.

Lawyer Charles A. Schiano Jr., who represents Lum, argued that the lawsuit was filed in August 1997, after a statute of limitations had expired.

But John A. Aretakis, a New York City lawyer who specializes in representing clients who were abused by clergy, said state Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Major ruled correctly when he found last year that the diocese and Lum should be held responsible.

The diocese knew previously that Lum was engaging in sexual activities but had no procedures to handle allegations of sexual misconduct by its priests, Aretakis said. He also agreed with Major's ruling that the statute of limitations didn't expire until two years after the lawsuit was filed.

The appellate judges are expected to rule within two months.

Lum, 58, pleaded guilty on Aug. 1, 1997, to third-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor. He admitted that he he touched the genitals of a 16-year-old boy in the rectory of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Greece. Lum was given a conditional discharge and ordered to stay away from the victim, who was 21 at the time of the plea and now is 25.

Although Lum no longer works as a parish priest, he lives in the rectory of a Rochester church and splits his time between Rochester and Ottawa, Canada, where he is studying for a graduate degree.


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