Newsday [Melville NY]
May 27, 2021
By Bart Jones
Lawsuits filed under the state Child Victims Act allege that a formerly high-ranking Long Island Catholic priest sexually abused boys in the 1970s at a Uniondale school — in one student’s case, more than 100 times — and in the sacristy of a Glen Cove church on his first clerical assignment.
Two of the three civil suits allege that while Msgr. Alan Placa worked at the now-closed St. Pius X preparatory seminary in Uniondale, he sexually abused students on campus multiple times over several years.
The third court filing alleges that Placa — for years one of the most powerful officials in the diocese — sexually abused a 12-year-old boy at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Glen Cove during his first parish assignment after being ordained a priest.
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is also named in the three lawsuits filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County under the act, which was passed in 2019 by the State Legislature. Until August, the act allows people alleging they were sexually abused as children to sue their alleged abusers — lawsuits previously blocked by time limits.
Newsday obtained the lawsuits this month from lawyers representing the three men suing Placa, 76, and the diocese. His name was not on a list of 101 priests accused of sexually abusing minors that the diocese included in April bankruptcy court papers.
The Vatican cleared Placa of allegations contained in one of the lawsuits after they were made in a 2003 Suffolk County grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the diocese.
The 180-page report concluded that church officials systematically left thousands of children “exposed to predatory, serial child molesters working as priests,” and that the church’s policy of dealing with abusive priests was a “sham.”
Placa retired as a priest in good standing and is living in Florida in a private residence. He denied the accusations in an interview with Newsday this month.
“I still deny all the allegations,” he said. Asked if his name should be on the list of 101 alleged offenders, he said, “I have no comment.”
Asked why the three men have filed lawsuits against him, Placa said, “I have no idea. You’d have to ask them that.”
Attorney Jordan Merson, who is representing both former St. Pius X students, said “my clients are upset” about Placa not being included on the list of accused priests. “They feel it’s another effort by the diocese to minimize what happened to them,” Merson said.
Spokesman Sean Dolan said the Diocese of Rockville Centre would not comment on specific cases and that the suits “are being addressed in the appropriate judicial forums.”
Placa was named a vice chancellor of the diocese, a top role involved with matters of canon law among other duties, in 1988.
From the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, when the scandal broke publicly, Placa was in charge of investigating priest sex-abuse complaints and was a major figure in the cover-up, according to the grand jury report.
Newsday and other news outlets identified Placa as “Priest F” in the report because the descriptions fit allegations known publicly about him. Victims who testified before the grand jury also identified Placa as Priest F.
“Priest F was cautious, but relentless in his pursuit of victims,” the report said. “He fondled boys over their clothes, usually in his office. Always, his actions were hidden by a poster, newspaper or a book. … Everyone in the school knew to stay away from Priest F.”
Richard Tollner, 62, who testified before the grand jury and is a plaintiff in one of the three lawsuits, said in recent court papers and in an interview with Newsday that the abuse he allegedly suffered at St. Pius X fit the pattern detailed in the report.
One day in January 1975 when school was closed, Placa sexually molested the then- 15-year-old, according to Tollner and his lawsuit.
In the fall of 1975, Placa along with another priest took Tollner and a second student to Fire Island, where he drugged both boys and sexually abused Tollner, the court papers state. Tollner, 62, said in an interview that Placa abused him a total of 12 times during his sophomore and junior years.
“It’s been a long-term track record of defer, deflect, delay, deny,” said Tollner, a municipal assessor who lives near Albany.
The Vatican investigated Tollner’s allegations and suspended Placa from the priesthood in 2002 for seven years. In 2009, he was cleared after a canonical law trial and restored to the priesthood.
Another student at St. Pius X in the 1970s, Christopher Fernan, 61, of Centerport, alleges in a lawsuit that Placa sexually abused him more than 100 times at the all-boys high school between 1974 and 1977.
A third lawsuit alleges that Placa’s position at St. Patrick’s in Glen Cove allowed him to “sexually assault, sexually abuse and/or have sexual contact with the plaintiff on multiple occasions,” including in the church sacristy where priests prepare for Mass.
The boy was 12 at the time. The lawsuit refers to him as John Doe because he does not want his name used, said his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.
Garabedian said he and the survivors want the diocese to release its secret files on sexual abuse by clergy, as well as criminal prosecution of abusers, the removal of plaques or signs honoring them, a monetary award, and above all public validation that their accusations are true.
Merson said being able to file lawsuits has been a helpful first step for his clients “as they continue to recover from the sexual abuse” alleged in the complaints.