This 1987 file photo shows the front of St. Clare's R.C. Church in Great Kills. (Staten Island Advance)

Lawsuits filed against 2 S.I. Catholic churches allege cases of sexual assault by clergy

Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]

March 13, 2021

By Irene Spezzamonte

Photo above: This 1987 file photo shows the front of St. Clare’s R.C. Church in Great Kills. (Staten Island Advance)

A woman and an altar boy filed separate, unrelated lawsuits against prominent Catholic schools on Staten Island and the Archdiocese under the protection of the Childs Victims Act.

One lawsuit alleges Rev. Basil Akut, a priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Huguenot, sexually assaulted a divorced women who was seeking counseling. A second lawsuit was filed by a man who alleges Rev. Ralph LaBelle sexually assaulted him while he was an altar boy at St. Clare Parish in Great Kills.

The lawsuits were all filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday and seek unspecified damages. A spokesman for the Archdiocese did not respond to an emailed request for comment Saturday.


A divorced woman from Staten Island filed a lawsuit against Rev. Basil Akut, a parochial vicar at Our Lady Star of the Sea, accusing him of using his position as a priest “to offer counseling services [..] in order to isolate, manipulate, and groom her for sexual abuse” in or around 2015, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit — filed against Father Akut, the Archdiocese of New York and Our Lady Start of the Sea –seeks unspecified damages.

The woman, whose identity is not disclosed in the court filings, started receiving counseling from Akut after she had been “through a divorce and was suffering, among other things, from a deep depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety,” the lawsuit states.

From 2016 to 2018, Akut allegedly “showered” the woman “in compliments about her appearance and personality” and took her our for her birthday, to the movies and “spent an inordinate amount of time alone with her,” according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff was going through something particularly stressful, such as freezing her eggs. Akut made sure to involve himself in her decision-making process by showering her in phone calls and texts. Akut made his guidance and presence essential to plaintiff,” the lawsuit alleges. “Additionally, as plaintiff’s counselor, Akut was made deeply aware of plaintiff’s troubled childhood and the abandonment issues she developed as a result. This made plaintiff virtually incapable of separating herself from Akut, which Akut understood and used to exploit plaintiff for his own sexual gratification.”

When Akut went on a trip to Nigeria in 2018 he allegedly told the woman he loved her to which declaration the woman responded she was not in love with him, the lawsuit states.

Around Labor Day weekend in 2018, Akut told her he was “still in love with her and that he fantasizes about her sexually,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Akut told the plaintiff that he thinks about her naked body; he wants to touch her naked body; and he wants to kiss her,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman told Akut she “did not want to speak about this,” but in the following months the priest continued to make sexually explicit statements to her, including asking her what she was wearing, telling her how sexy she was, and telling her she had “wet dreams” about her, the lawsuit indicates.

In mid-October 2018 the woman joined another church on Staten Island, but Akut continued to stay in touch with her and later that month, “acted on his statements and sexually assaulted” her, the lawsuit alleges.

One of the lawsuits was filed against Our Lady Star of the Sea. (Google Maps)
One of the lawsuits was filed against Our Lady Star of the Sea. (Google Maps)

Akut allegedly took advantage of the fact that the woman was taking medication that helped her fall asleep that made her “drowsy, nauseous and vulnerable” of which he was aware through their counseling sessions, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Akut of sexually assaulting the woman on multiple occasions, including once in the main living room at the rectory where Akut allegedly kissed her while holding her hands against her back, the lawsuit states.

“Stunned, drowsy and confused [she] remained motionless,” the lawsuit says.

Akut’s behavior continued for the next year and a half, during which period the woman told him that she did not want to “engage in sexual conversations or actions.” Akut responded something to the effect of “You don’t want me? Why are you rejecting me? You are making me feel unwanted,” the lawsuit says.

“It is hard to believe there are no other victims of this priest out there,” Michael Dowd, who is representing the plaintiff in the case, said to the Advance/ Saturday morning.


A man has filed a lawsuit against St. Clare Parish in Great Kills alleging Father Ralph LaBelle sexually assaulted him while he was an altar boy at the church.

The lawsuit is filed against the Archdiocese of New York and the Church of St. Clare and seeks unspecified damages.

The man, identified only by his initials, encountered LaBelle sometime between 1980 and 1981 when he was about 11- to 12-years-old, according to the suit.

The lawsuit does not specify if the man still lives on Staten Island. LaBelle was assigned to St. Clare’s R.C. Church from 1979 to 1985.

The boy accompanied his parents and brother to the church to say goodbye to Father LaBelle on his last day at the church before being reassigned, the lawsuit alleges.

“Father LaBelle brought [the] plaintiff into his office in the church where they were alone together. Father LaBelle had plaintiff kneel, whereupon Father LaBelle sexually assaulted plaintiff,” the lawsuit alleges. “This sexual assault included Father LaBelle rubbing his genitalia against plaintiff’s leg until Father LaBelle became fully aroused.”

LaBelle already was included on a list of clergy credibly accused of abuse unveiled in April 2019 by the Archdiocese of New York. He was laicized in 2005, after several victims had come forward.

Earlier in January a civil complaint filed in Richmond County state Supreme Court, St. George, claims he “groomed” and sexually abused a victims between the ages of 13 and 16-years-old.