Diocese of Ogdensburg again taken to court over child sex abuse allegations

Watertown Daily Times [Watertown NY]

April 8, 2021

By Sydney Schaefer

The Diocese of Ogdensburg is once again being taken to court over child sex abuse claims.

The plaintiff, identified in court documents as C.C., filed suit last week in state Supreme Court in St. Lawrence County against the diocese and St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh. The suit was filed April 1.

The plaintiff is a resident of New York state, according to the complaint. It remains unclear how old the plaintiff is now, but the suit alleges the claimed actions began in 1968 when he was 4 years old.

“The allegations are that the Diocese of Ogdensburg failed to protect our client from sexual abuse,” attorney Jeffrey M. Herman, who is representing the plaintiff, said in an email statement Wednesday. “I am determined to help this brave man share his story and begin the healing process. We are a voice for victims and our sole focus is to help victims heal by giving them a voice through filing a civil suit.”

The suit claims that two priests, Father Roland H. St. Pierre and Father Joseph A. Conti of the diocese assigned to the Plattsburgh church at the time, sexually abused the plaintiff beginning in 1968 and lasting through the early 1970s.

Both Father St. Pierre and Father Conti are now dead. According to a story published by the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in 2010, Father St. Pierre, who also served as the mayor of Plattsburgh, died Feb. 13, 2010, at the age of 83. In the 1970s, he was elected to three two-year mayoral terms and served from 1972 through 1977. He was the first Catholic priest elected mayor of a U.S. city.

Father Conti, according to an obituary published on syracuse.com, died July 30, 2018, at the age of 84 after an extensive battle with cancer.

In January 2019, the diocese released a list of 30 priests believed to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. Of those 30, 18 were dead as of the list’s release two years ago. The 12 priests alive at the time were removed from ministry as a result of the allegations, or left ministry prior to the alleged misconduct findings.

Father Conti was named to that list, while Father St. Pierre was not.

The complaint states that in 1968, when C.C. was 4 years old, he and his friends were walking on a wooded trail commonly used by children in the neighborhood. While C.C. was walking on the trail, he threw a rock at a shed.

Father St. Pierre allegedly witnessed C.C. throw the rock and told C.C. he would “get the devil out of him” before sexually assaulting him in the wooded area.

Father St. Pierre then allegedly told C.C. that if C.C. refused to continue engaging in sexual actions with Father St. Pierre, or if C.C. reported the abuse, Father St. Pierre would go to the authorities and send C.C. to reform school.

Father St. Pierre allegedly continued to sexually assault and abuse C.C. until about 1972 when C.C. was 8 years old.

The suit claims that Father St. Pierre inappropriately touched and fondled the plaintiff’s genitals, forced C.C. to perform oral sex, digitally penetrated the plaintiff’s rectum and anally sodomized C.C. with his penis.

Father St. Pierre’s alleged sexual abuse of C.C. happened about two to four times per week from 1968 to 1970. He also allegedly sexually assaulted C.C. about two to four times in 1971 and again once or twice in 1972.

The suit further alleges that C.C. was sexually abused by Father Conti on “numerous occasions” in 1969. Father Conti forced C.C. to perform oral sex and anally sodomized C.C. with his penis, according to the complaint.

Both Father St. Pierre and Father Conti allegedly abused C.C. in the same wooded area. The suit states that Father St. Pierre would mark the area on the trail with a cross made of grass blades.

The suit claims that Father St. Pierre and Father Conti would “take turns” sexually abusing C.C. while the other watched the abuse take place. The two priests also apparently wore their religious garb while sexually abusing C.C.

The suit is brought upon by the state’s Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases. The act, passed in 2019, gives survivors a one-year window to file claims of abuse that had previously exceeded the statute of limitations. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended the act for a second time on May 27, 2020, giving survivors until Aug. 13 of this year to file claims.

This is not the first time the diocese has been taken to court under the Child Victims Act. Since the act’s passing, the diocese has been named as a defendant in a number of alleged sexual abuse lawsuits.

Jeff Anderson & Associates, another law firm that’s filed a number of sex abuse lawsuits against dioceses across the state, held a press conference Tuesday where it was revealed there are currently 80 sex abuse lawsuits against the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Not all 80 are represented by Jeff Anderson & Associates.

Of the 80 lawsuits against the Diocese of Ogdensburg, 79 are against the diocese, 67 are against parishes or churches, eight are against schools and 12 are against religious orders.

The diocese comprises the entirety of Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties.

The suit doesn’t specify an amount being sought in damages.