Suit Tuition Was Traded for Sex Alleged Victim Says Monsignor H. Charles Sewall Lowered School Cost

By Renee K. Gadoua
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
June 7, 2002

A local priest who was principal of a Utica Catholic high school promised a student free tuition in exchange for sex, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Oneida County.

Monsignor H. Charles Sewall used "the power and authority of his position to pressure plaintiff into continuing the abuse and maintaining his silence about it" and "resorted to bribery, both in the form of cash payments and promises of free tuition at Notre Dame High School in exchange for his silence and continued acquiescence," according to one of three $20 million lawsuits.

The lawsuits accuse Sewall, Bishop James Moynihan and the Syracuse Diocese of "a conspiracy to intentionally, recklessly and/or negligently conceal criminal conduct." They accuse Sewall of taking advantage of his position of trust as "holy authority figure" and accuse the diocese of knowing of Sewall's pattern of abuse and failing to stop it.

Each suit seeks $10 million in damages for humiliation, pain, suffering and emotional distress and loss of reputation. Each also seeks $10 million in punitive damages.

Paul Hanrahan, a lawyer with Hancock & Estabrook, the law firm that represents the Syracuse Diocese, said he could not comment on the lawsuits Thursday because he had not seen them.

Utica lawyer Frank Policelli, who represents all three alleged victims, said Sewall told one alleged victim, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, he would reduce the boy's tuition in exchange for his continued cooperation.

"He said he would lower the tuition if the boy continued with the sexual relationship and did not tell anyone," Policelli said.

Policelli said he did not know the amount Sewall cut from the boy's tuition.

According to the lawsuit, the abuse occurred between 1978 and 1980. The boy was active in a Utica parish and participated in school sports, the lawsuit says.

"On one occasion in 1978 defendant Sewall called plaintiff Doe into his office at Notre Dame High School. After locking the door, defendant Sewall began talking with Doe about football, grades, school, etc.," the lawsuit says. "Defendant Sewall touched Doe's arm and asked him to stand up, after which Sewall touched his face and said a prayer, conveying the impression to Doe that everything that was happening was religiously proper and sanctioned by the church."

Policelli said the abuse occurred in Sewall's office, in the school locker room, in the school restrooms, in the chapel and in a trailer on school grounds.

Policelli said Sewall gave all three boys from $10 to $40 in exchange for sexual acts.

One of the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit accepted an undisclosed payment in 1988 to settle a sexual abuse charge against Sewall.

Policelli said the man chose to file another civil suit because the diocese reneged on its promises.

"They didn't defrock him and keep him away from children," Policelli said of what he described as a verbal agreement. Policelli said he has independent evidence and a dozen witnesses to corroborate the plaintiffs' stories.

Since the statute of limitations has run out on criminal charges, Policelli said a civil lawsuit was the only option.

"You can't put the guy (Sewall) in jail," he said. "They can't get their lives back. It's the only remedy they have."


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