Diocese Ordered to Release Accused Priest's Records Judge Will Decide Whether Accusers' Lawyer Will Get the Personnel Documents

By Renee K. Gadoua
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
November 1, 2002

The Syracuse Diocese must release the personnel records of a priest accused of sexual abuse to the priest's lawyer.

After that, a judge will examine the documents about Monsignor H. Charles Sewall and decide whether to release them to a Utica lawyer representing three men who say Sewall sexually abused them, state Supreme Court Justice John W. Grow ruled Thursday.

Grow's decision limits the request of lawyer Frank Policelli of Utica, who had sought documents about Sewall and other priests in the seven-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.

Paul Hanrahan, a lawyer with the firm of Hancock & Estabrook, which is representing the diocese, said their hope was to limit the ruling to "matters relevant to the lawsuit."

Hanrahan said he and the diocese will get Sewall's authorization to release the file to Sewall's lawyer, Peter Hobaica of Utica.

"Mr. Policelli may get some or all of the personnel records," he said. "The court will decide that."

Policelli represents three men who are each suing Sewall, Bishop James Moynihan and the diocese. The men say Sewall gave them money in exchange for sex in the 1970s and 1980s. The lawsuits claim the diocese knew about the alleged abuse by Sewall and failed to stop it.

Policelli said most of his requests were for records about Sewall, 67, who retired in 1997. He requested personnel records of other priests to provide information about how the diocese handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests, he said.

"They go to the policy of injustice," he said.

Hanrahan, whose partner, Mark Schulte, was in state Supreme Court in Rome Thursday, said the case also will have to undergo arguments about the statute of limitations.

The three cases of alleged sexual abuse occurred far earlier than the three years the state allows for filing a civil lawsuit, he said.

Policelli has said the statute of limitations argument is irrelevant.

The national priest sex-abuse scandal gained momentum earlier this year, after a judge ruled the Boston Diocese must release personnel files in the case of the former priest and convicted pedophile John Geoghan.

Lawyers successfully argued the public interest outweighed the privacy concerns of the litigants.

Hanrahan said it's unclear whether the local case will follow the same pattern.

"New York court's not subject to the laws or decision of a sister state," he said.


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