Priest, Diocese Cleared by Court
Schenectady - A state judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that accused the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese of slander and a priest of stalking an alleged sexual abuse victim.
The ruling by acting Supreme Court Justice Barry D. Kramer was a victory for the Rev. Alan Jupin and the diocese, which had been accused in a $600,000 lawsuit by Timothy Sawicki, a 44-year-old special education teacher.
Sawicki claimed that he was sexually abused during the 1970s by Jupin, pastor at Our Lady of Fatima in Schenectady, and rejected sexual advances from the Rev. Louis Douglas, who is now retired, and the Rev. Donald Ophals, pastor at St. Francis DeSales in Troy. Kramer said he did not attempt to determine the validity of sexual abuse charges because the three-year statute of limitations expired long ago. Jupin, Douglas and Ophals have been on leaves of absence since the lawsuit was filed in May 2003.
In a 20-minute ruling from the bench, the judge said the complaint that Bishop Howard Hubbard, the Rev. Kenneth Doyle and the church-run weekly newspaper The Evangelist slandered Sawicki by publicly denying the charges against the priests "borders on being absolutely frivolous."
Church officials were entitled to deny the accusations, Kramer said. "It was an opinion, or it may be true," he said.
The judge also dismissed Sawicki's claim that Jupin tried to intimidate him into not filing a complaint with the diocese. Kramer said there was a "full investigation" by Schenectady District Attorney Robert M. Carney, who last month found no evidence of stalking.
Kramer said Sawicki's claim he felt threatened despite agreeing to meet with Jupin "didn't make sense ... there is simply no outrageous conduct here."
Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb said, "This decision speaks for itself."
The three priests will remain on leave while the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board considers Sawicki's sexual-abuse complaint, Goldfarb said.
In his report, Carney said encounters that Sawicki had with Jupin in early 2003 were not confrontational, that Sawicki never asked Jupin to stay away from him and that the final meeting the two men had was a mutually agreed-upon visit at Jupin's church office.
After the judge finished reading his ruling, Sawicki's lawyer, John Aretakis, an outspoken critic on the diocese's treatment of sexual abuse victims, questioned Kramer's impartiality.
Aretakis asked whether the judge had any "relationships" with the diocese, Hubbard or the diocese's new adviser on sexual abuse policy, former state Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine. Levine formerly had been a state Supreme Court judge, Schenectady County Family Court judge and Schenectady County district attorney.
"No, I don't," Kramer replied.
It was another legal setback for the outspoken Aretakis, who had two other lawsuits against the diocese dismissed last year.
Afterward, Aretakis said, "We are not defeated. ... We will probably be appealing this." He added, "I won on May 10, when the diocese suspended Jupin and the other priests after we filed the lawsuit."
Sawicki did not attend court but issued a statement that said, "The judicial system along with the diocese of Albany have no interest in assisting victims or in preventing future victimization."
In October 2003, acting state Supreme Court Justice Christian F. Hummel dismissed a lawsuit filed by Aretakis that alleged a pedophile priest, the Rev. John Bertolucci, made harassing phone calls to the parents of one of his victims. An appeal in that case is pending.
In August 2003, Hummel dismissed another Aretakis-filed lawsuit that
accused the diocese of intentionally discouraging victims of sexual abuse
from coming forward to lodge complaints.
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