Judge Rejects Lawsuit over Priest's Phone Call
Albany the Rev. John P. Bertolucci Was Sued after He Called the Parents of an Alleged Sex-Abuse Victim
By Bruce A. Scruton
Times Union [Albany, NY]
October 24, 2003
The last parts of a year-old lawsuit that alleged a pedophile priest made harassing phone calls to the parents of one of his victims has been dismissed in state Supreme Court.
The priest, the Rev. John P. Bertolucci, had maintained that his single phone call to the parents on Sept. 11, 2002, was an act seeking forgiveness and came after watching television coverage of 9/11 memorial services.
In a decision dated Monday, Justice Christian F. Hummel dismissed the remains of the lawsuit, which, over the preceding months, had been chipped away by other dismissals.
The suit was initially filed on Oct. 4, 2002, against Bertolucci and the Rev. Kenneth Doyle and alleged that Doyle had told Bertolucci to call the parents, identified only as "Mr. and Mrs. John Doe." In April, the plaintiffs' attorney, John Aretakis, amended the suit, adding Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
In July, Hummel removed the bishop and diocese as defendants and on Sept. 22 granted motions asking that Doyle be dismissed from the suit.
The Sept. 11, 2002, phone call came just a day before Aretakis and the abuse victim, identified as "Jack Doe," were to meet with the diocese's lawyer. During that phone call, Bertolucci admitted to the parents that in the 1970s, he had inappropriately touched their son but never had sexual intercourse with the youth, who is now a state trooper.
The original lawsuit also included an allegation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. However, the plaintiff withdrew that RICO allegation before the court could act on its merits.
A motion filed by Aretakis last month sought to have Hummel turn over to investigators the attorney's allegations of bias and criminal wrongdoing to investigators. In his decision, Hummel said, "That request is a 'sound bite' intended for local media outlets rather than a serious legal argument," and Aretakis could take his complaint directly to the appropriate agencies.
Hummel ruled that Bertolucci's phone call did not rise to the standards needed to be considered "outrageous." In fact, the judge wrote, of all the cases to go before the Court of Appeals on that legal point, "every one has failed because the alleged conduct was not sufficiently outrageous."
The judge noted that the son had earlier told his parents about hiring an attorney to sue the diocese, so a phone call from the priest should not have come as a surprise.
Phone calls are often made from possible defendants asking that suits not be filed or the issue be settled before the case goes to court, Hummel said.
This is the last of the cases involving clergy sexual abuse against the Albany Diocese in Albany courts, although two earlier dismissals are under appeal. Aretakis said Thursday that there is one case pending in Schenectady, while other cases have been filed against the Albany Diocese in Nebraska and Arizona.
The attorney said he has been contacted by potential clients and is researching their claims and new lawsuits are possible.
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