Church Faces More Sex-Abuse Suits
Former Altar Boys Accuse Priest Who Served in Owego
By Nancy Dooling
Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY)
December 11, 2002
Three former altar boys who say they were sexually molested decades ago by a priest assigned to churches in Owego and Spencerport filed suit Tuesday in state Supreme Court.
As the lawsuits continue to mount against the churches, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester and the Vatican — three others have been filed since Nov. 26 — the attorney representing the plaintiffs said he wants to know more about a police investigation conducted nearly 20 years ago in which authorities investigated allegations of molestations by a priest at the church.
A total of six lawsuits have been filed against the Rochester diocese and the Holy See in the past few weeks. Five of the lawsuits name St. Patrick's Church in Owego as a defendant.
A sixth lawsuit names a Catholic church in Spencerport, near Rochester in Monroe County, where the Rev. Albert Cason was assigned before he was sent to St. Patrick's, said Ronald R. Benjamin, the attorney representing all six plaintiffs.
Cason is not named as a defendant in any of the lawsuits, but all six plaintiffs claim he sexually abused them.
Benjamin said he was denied a Freedom of Information Law request he filed with the Tioga County Sheriff's Department to look at files from an investigation conducted on Cason in the early 1980s. An appeal to the Tioga County Legislature to look at the files also failed this week, Benjamin said.
"Since no criminal charges were brought against him (Cason), it becomes a privacy issue," said Maureen L. Dougherty, the county clerk and the county's Freedom of Information Law officer.
"Under the privacy act, the records are exempt, and releasing them would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," she said.
Benjamin said he will file an appeal in state Supreme Court and a court justice will have to decide whether the contents of the file should be released. Benjamin said he is interested in two letters that may have been sent from the sheriff's department to the diocese and to the Holy See concerning Cason's alleged crimes.
The diocese removed Cason from his ministry for sexual misconduct in 1985, but no criminal charges were filed.
The three suits filed Tuesday are seeking $40 million each in damages from the churches, the diocese and the Vatican, Benjamin said. The three suits filed earlier seek damages totaling $98 million. Benjamin expects to file two or three more lawsuits later this week, naming the same defendants, he said Tuesday.
Cason, a co-pastor at the Owego church from 1973 to 1985, fondled the plaintiffs and had sex with them, the lawsuits state. Most were pre-teens or in their early teens when the abuse occurred, court documents indicate.
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