Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin [Binghamton NY]
August 16, 2021
By Anthony Borrelli
The boy was 6 years old when his family began attending church at St. Vincent de Paul in 1980.
That’s where he met Fr. Robert Ours, who served at the parish during a four-year stretch of his two-decades-long career in the priesthood.
Inside a confessional booth at the Vestal church, Ours allegedly fondled the boy multiple times over the course of a year, until 1983. Ours, who in 2014 was sentenced in an unrelated child porn case, has since been removed from the ministry.
The nearly 40-year-old sex abuse accusations were revealed for the first time in an Aug. 2 lawsuit against Ours and the Vestal church, part of a wave of lawsuits that flowed into Broome County’s Supreme Court during the final months of New York state’s Child Victims Act.
After Saturday, nearly two years since it was signed, the window created by the Child Victims Act for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file decades-old complaints in civil court came to a close.
The Child Victims Act allowed victims to bring lawsuits against perpetrators and institutions — including the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts — regardless of how long ago the sexual abuse took place. It initially opened a one-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits seeking compensation, and the deadline to file was later extended by one year because of the COVID pandemic.
Lawsuits that followed statewide brought with them revelatory accusations in alleged sexual abuse cases, many of which were never previously reported.
More than 9,200 complaints have been filed as part of the CVA process, with a surge of new claims arriving as the deadline approached. It’s estimated the number of cases statewide reached around 10,000.
For the last couple of months, since June 1, roughly 40 new Child Victims Act lawsuits were filed in Broome County, as attorneys scrambled to meet the deadline. Of those, roughly half involved claims against the Boy Scouts, while others named schools and/or churches as defendants.
“The only thing our system can do is award monetary damages to people, we can’t undo what happened to them,” said James Gleason, a Binghamton-area lawyer handling a federal CVA lawsuit against three Broome County ex-priests.
Among the accusations against different alleged abusers raised in Binghamton-area Child Victims Act lawsuits:
- A former Binghamton resident’s childhood abuse beginning in 1969, allegedly at the hands of three former priests in Broome County.
- Four separate complaints alleging students were abused by a former Maine-Endwell teacher in 1970.
- Two brothers were among children sexually abused by a 20-year-old counselor during an after-school and summertime program operated through the YMCA in Endicott around 2007.
While a majority of the cases seek monetary damages, for those representing the victims, the lawsuits also attempt to bring along some measure of accountability.
“It’s a very cathartic thing for them to sit down and tell their story,” Gleason said. “There might even be some healing that goes on with these victims, going through the process.”
With the Child Victims Act window closing, attorneys and accusers likely face lengthy and potentially complicated legal proceedings, some of which would be strictly dictated under bankruptcy court rules, before any of their cases can be resolved.
What Child Victims Act cases revealed about abusers
Many of the lawsuits named alleged abusers who had never before been charged with a crime, while others followed up years after criminal court cases had been settled.
A lawsuit filed in 2019 against the Afton Central School District and its former high school principal, David Curtis, was related to accusations he’d faced in 1991 for kissing and fondling a then-15-year-old girl.
Curtis later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a minor by sexual contact, but the Child Victims Act lawsuit argued negligence on the part of the school district. That lawsuit is still pending.
Other lawsuits named already notorious members of the clergy, those in the Southern Tier that were identified by the Syracuse Diocese as having been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.
Ours, who has since been removed from the ministry, worked at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton from 1990 to 2011. Over the years, he served at several Binghamton-area parishes.
In 2014, Ours pleaded guilty to possessing six illegal images of children under the age of 16 on his computer in August 2013. He received a 10-year probation term and was required to register as a sex offender.
While the lawsuit filed Aug. 2 against Ours was the first time he faced accusations involving sexual abuse in the Binghamton area, he was named in a 2017 federal complaint filed in Connecticut involving abuse by another priest.
In that case, which has since been discontinued, it alleged abuse by Ours while he was a deacon and soon-to-be priest. The lawsuit also alleged the victim’s accusations against Ours, who was ordained in 1980, were never investigated by the Diocese of Syracuse.
What happens next with Child Victims Act lawsuits
The sweeping number of Child Victims Act lawsuits prompted four of the state’s eight Catholic Dioceses to file for bankruptcy protection, as did the Boy Scouts of America. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, which includes parishes in Broome County, is facing at least 181 lawsuits alone.
Bankruptcy proceedings are expected to affect the resolution of abuse claims, but they have also forced a deeper reckoning with those organizations’ failures to protect children and to support adult survivors who continue to struggle with the impact of the abuse they suffered.
Filing for bankruptcy essentially froze all pending lawsuit cases, regardless of what stages those lawsuits had reached in court.
A few lawsuits involving other entities or defendants, including one against a former Binghamton YMCA worker, have since been discontinued without any resolution.
Without filing for bankruptcy, litigation costs and settlements or jury awards had the potential to exceed many millions of dollars, according to Syracuse Diocese Bishop Douglas J. Lucia.
In a statement, Lucia said one jury award from any one of the mounting Child Victims Act lawsuits against the diocese could’ve dealt such a crippling blow to its financial assets, that the ciocese would be unable to resolve other claims or to carry on its other functions.
“It seeks to establish a process by which claims will be treated in a just and equitable way,” he said.
Includes reporting by Sean Lahman, Diana Dombrowski, and Saba Ali.