Staten Island Advance [Staten Island NY]
August 16, 2021
By Frank Donnelly
A WINDOW CLOSED. AN ISLAND CHANGED. This story is the first in a four-part series examining the impact of the Child Victims Act.
August 14, 2019, sent shockwaves across Staten Island and around New York state.
On that day, hundreds of lawsuits were filed in courts here and throughout the state accusing priests, nuns, Boy Scout leaders and other trusted adults of sexually abusing children under their tutelage.
The suits were commenced under the landmark Child Victims Act.
The disturbing incidents occurred decades ago, the plaintiffs alleged. On church grounds, in orphanages, Scout camps and even in the back seats of private cars.
Some cases dated as far back as the 1940s.
On Staten Island, the primary defendants in many suits were the Archdiocese of New York, the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto and the Boy Scouts.
A respected sports coach and a well-known monsignor were also accused by multiple plaintiffs.
One person even sued his parents. Another sued a Pentecostal Church.
The plaintiffs alleged the institutional defendants turned a blind eye toward the abusers and failed to protect the children whose safety had been entrusted to them.
The Child Victims Act created a one-year window for plaintiffs of any age to sue alleged abusers regardless of when the abuse occurred.
Last year, that window was extended another 12 months.
Now, two years and hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits later, parts of the act have expired.
Yet, the door hasn’t closed on all victims.
Some still have until age 55 to sue their alleged abusers. Prior to the act, they were time-barred from filing suit on turning 22.
S.I. FOREVER ALTERED
The landscape on Staten Island has been altered. Forever.
Revered institutions and individual defendants face an uncertain and humbling future as they struggle to regain their footing and, in many cases, their reputation.
While at the same time, long-suffering victims battle to attain some semblance of justice and peace.
“I think the Child Victims Act has given people a second chance,” said attorney Bradley L. Rice, who represents a number of the plaintiffs. “It’s allowed them to come forward and confront those that abused them in the past and try to take control of their life.”
Survivors of abuse, he said, “often live for decades in shame and silence, unable to move forward.”
“Hopefully, the Child Victims Act is a wake-up call to these institutions to do a better job of protecting the children they are supposed to be looking out for,” said Rice.
James R. Marsh, another lawyer for alleged abuse victims, said the act has resonated far beyond the state.
“The biggest impact of the Child Victims Act not only in New York but across the country is it has made the issue of child sexual abuse front and center not only legally but in society,” said Marsh. “Part of the good thing about the Child Victims Act is that it has really shined a focus on all of these things that had for many years not been spoken about.”
“It has spawned movements across the entire country to pass similar laws,” Marsh said.
The act was not without its share of controversy.
Critics argued that the law, while well-intended, could spawn questionable or contrived claims.
Particularly in those instances where alleged abusers were dead or too incapacitated to defend themselves.
In such circumstances, the act would be “extremely prejudicial” to the institutions for whom those individuals worked or were affiliated, former Staten Island Family Court Judge Daniel Leddy opined in a column for the Advance/SILive.com shortly after the law became effective.
Those institutions, in Leddy’s view, were the real targets under the act.
The Catholic Church was one institution, if not the institution, hardest hit by the lawsuits.
On Staten Island, dozens of suits have been filed against the Archdiocese of New York, as well as some of its parishes and priests.
Jeff Herman, a nationally-recognized trial lawyer for survivors of sexual abuse, was asked the age range of his clients in suits against the Catholic Church.
“From teenagers to 92 years old,” he replied.“Hopefully, the Child Victims Act is a wake-up call to these institutions to do a better job of protecting the children they are supposed to be looking out for.”— Bradley Rice, attorney
The alleged victims were students, young parishioners, altar servers and players on sports teams.
Prior to August 2019, the Archdiocese unveiled a list of 120 bishops, priests and deacons who were credibly accused of sex abuse or possessing child pornography.
Clergy who served on Staten Island were among those listed. So, too, were individuals who were the subject of a claim lodged with the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which was deemed eligible for compensation.
The Archdiocese established the IRCP in 2016 to compensate victim-survivors of abuse by its priests or deacons.
In response to the myriad allegations against the Archdiocese and related defendants, Joseph Zwilling, an Archdiocese spokesman, has said he cannot comment on specific lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act.
But he noted, “The Archdiocese takes all allegations of abuse seriously, and responds to those who bring such allegations with respect and sensitivity.”
Besides the Archdiocese, these institutions and individuals were among the most frequently named defendants on Staten Island:
Mount Loretto: Over its 100-plus-years history, thousands of children have been fostered at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin at Mount Loretto.
Many were wards of the court, either orphaned or from broken homes and other dire circumstances. By 1964, Mount Loretto was the largest child-care institution in the U.S. Thirty years later, foster-care service there ended.
Today, the campus in Pleasant Plains is run by Catholic Charities of Staten Island and is home to two public schools, a senior and a community center, a food pantry and a day-care facility.
Yet the former orphanage’s laudable record of public service has been tarnished.
Multiple former residents contend Mount Loretto was, for them, a house of horrors.
In a spate of suits, the plaintiffs allege they endured appalling abuse, over decades, at the hands of nuns, priests, religious brothers and lay employees there.
The alleged incidents date to the 1950s, with the last extending into the early 1990s.
Several plaintiffs allege they were abused by the late Rev. Eugene Mangan at the orphanage.
Father Mangan was named on the Archdiocese list of clergy against whom an IRCP claim was deemed eligible for compensation. He served at Mount Loretto from 1959 to 1979.
As the suits became public two years ago, several former Mount Loretto residents rallied to the mission’s defense. They told the Advance/SILive.com they were unaware of any sexual abuse that allegedly occurred on the grounds, nor had they ever heard of such incidents.
One former female resident said she and many others “felt safe and loved” at the mission.
Monsignor John Paddack: While he never served at Mount Loretto, Monsignor John Paddack has been accused by at least a dozen plaintiffs of abusing them during the cleric’s various assignments throughout the Archdiocese of New York since the 1980s, said attorney Trusha Goffe of Jeff Anderson & Associates.
During those years, Monsignor Paddack served at Incarnation R.C. Church in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, Monsignor Farrell High School in Oakwood and St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School in Huguenot.
The monsignor was principal at Farrell from 2002 to 2010. Previously, he was an academic dean and educator at Sea from 1998 to 2002.
“He is an extraordinarily cunning predator who uses attention and kindness and his position in a really effective way,” Anderson, the lawyer, said.
Other plaintiffs have alleged they were abused by religious brothers at Farrell.
Most recently, Monsignor Paddack had been pastor at the Church of Notre Dame in Manhattan, until stepping down two years ago amid the mounting accusations.
However, no abuse allegations stem from his time at that church.
Zwilling, the Archdiocese spokesman, has said Monsignor Paddack is not allowed to function as a priest while the cases against him proceed.
Monsignor Paddack has steadfastly denied the allegations against him.
In a previous interview he said: “Nothing happened, believe me. I have a 50-year record of teaching. And it’s a good record, believe me. I think they’re seeing the advertisements on television and in the paper, and a chance to make money. Very sad, and it could ruin a reputation.”
Rev. Ralph LaBelle: Monsignor Paddack isn’t the only Staten Island priest accused of sexually abusing multiple children.
At least six individuals allege the former Rev. Ralph LaBelle molested them while he was assigned to St. Clare’s Parish in Great Kills.
The alleged sexual abuse occurred at various times in 1979 and in the 1980s.
One young parishioner alleges in a lawsuit that Father LaBelle plied him with beer and Rangers’ hockey tickets to gain his trust and sexually abuse him.
Another plaintiff was just 6 years old when the priest molested him around 1979 “including during his first reconciliation and church services,” alleges a separate suit.
A third plaintiff alleges Father LaBelle abused him around 1984 during “catechism training.”
In April 2019, Father LaBelle was included on the Archdiocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. He was laicized in 2005, after several victims had come forward.
The Boy Scouts: The Scouts were once one of the most respected institutions on Staten Island and around the country.
Now, scores of former Staten Island Scouts allege they were subjected to decades of systemic sexual abuse at the hands of Scout leaders, volunteers and other adults.
In fact, 28 of those Scouts filed a bombshell suit June. The plaintiffs accused the Staten Island Council of the Boy Scouts and the Archdiocese of New York of serving as “headhunters” to “recruit” boys for the Scouts where they were molested by Scoutmasters and other adults.
A civil complaint alleges the abuse spanned almost half a century. One plaintiff was sexually abused back in 1949, while the most recent incident involving a younger plaintiff occurred in 1995, alleges the complaint.
The Boy Scouts gained parents’ trust by espousing the values of character development, physical fitness and citizenship, one civil complaint alleges. The abusers used that trust, as well as their authority and power, to take advantage of the boys and to ensure their silence, the complaint alleges.
Various suits against the Scouts also name Staten Island churches as defendants.
Those churches organized and sponsored the Scout troops, the suits maintain.
In an emailed statement, the Greater New York Councils, Boy Scouts of America, has said the group cannot comment on pending litigation. However, the statement did say the Councils “are deeply saddened by the pain and suffering endured by survivors of past abuse.”
“We are committed to fulfilling our social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate survivors while ensuring that Scouting can continue to serve youth, families, and local communities in the greater New York area for years to come,” said the statement. “The Greater New York Councils continue to communicate with national leadership via the Ad Hoc Committee of Local Councils and are collaborating with all parties to the case to find a solution that is in the best interests of survivors and all parties.”
The case referred to in the statement is the national Boy Scouts of America’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy and amended reorganization plan.
“It is also important to note that, while any instance of abuse is one too many, the overwhelming majority of abuse claims filed in the national organization’s bankruptcy case relate to allegations of abuse that occurred prior to implementation of our modern youth protection policies more than three decades ago,” the statement said.
Anthony (Tony) Sagona: Over the past 40 years, Tony Sagona has been a respected figure within AAU basketball, an elite league for high-school players that’s helped propel many of them to college, the NBA and other professional leagues.
An NBC Sports article once heralded Sagona’s AAU-style program for taking the ethical high ground as a coach in a summer-league basketball circuit that’s come under fire in recent years.
But some former youth-league players contend Sagona has a dark side.
At least eight suits have been filed in New York state courts against Sagona, alleging he sexually abused young baseball and basketball players, said Rice, the lawyer.
At least four other suits have been filed in New Jersey.
The New York suits variously list as co-defendants a number of baseball and basketball leagues and organizations such as the AAU, the Great Kills Babe Ruth League and an American Legion post.
Other co-defendants include the Archdiocese of New York and several Staten Island parochial schools.
Sagona moved to New Jersey decades ago, following a near 10-year-long period in the 1970s when accusers say the abuse occurred. However, some who knew Sagona and played for him over the past 20 years told the Advance/SILive.com they never heard or saw anything that seemed inappropriate.
Aidan O’Connor, Sagona’s lawyer, denied the sexual abuse claims against his client.
“There was no sexual abuse of any kind, and it is simply unfair to come up with accusations 30 to 45 years after the fact, when it is harder to defend yourself,” said O’Connor. “These allegations can ruin someone’s reputation — like Tony Sagona — who has devoted his life to helping young men succeed in sports, in college and even going to the pros.”