Deceased Priest Tied Up in LI Home Was Abuser: Lawsuit Alleges

Patch [New York City NY]

September 13, 2021

By Lisa Finn

A North Carolina man has filed suit against the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island and another church and is seeking $20 million in damages for abuse he says he suffered at the hands of a priest who was “restrained” and left critically injured in his Shelter Island home for days in 2018.

The retired Episcopalian Rev. Canon Paul Wancura later died of his injuries. The case has remained unsolved for years.

The complaint, filed with the New York State Supreme Court on August 19 by Gil Santamarina, New York City-based attorney for Lew H. Crispin III, states: “The circumstances surrounding the attack on the Reverend remain mysterious and unsolved, but there is reason to believe that the perpetrator’s primary intent was to torture the Reverend, not to steal from him.”

The complaint states that in 1975 when Crispin was five years old, he moved to Setauket with his mother and sister and joined Caroline Church. When he was seven, Crispin’s mother was hit by a truck and unable to attend church until he was nine years old, the complaint said.

Crispin was in the choir at the time, Wancura served as rector, the complaint said. Crispin, the complaint said, had no adult with him, leaving him vulnerable. “In the eyes of a pedophile such as the Reverend, this made plaintiff an optimal target to be sexually abused,” the complaint said.

According to the complaint, “The Reverend used his position of power and control within the Episcopal Church to sexually abuse” Crispin on a regular and ongoing basis for a period of about seven years, beginning around 1978, when he was eight years old, and ending in or about 1985, when he was then 15 years old. Crispin was baptized and confirmed and then immediately ceased attending Caroline Church, never to return, the complaint said.

The complaint alleges that the abuse took place on the grounds of Caroline Church when Wancura would grab Crispin and engage in a sexual act while at the same time saying he was a “good boy” and “praying for the forgiveness of. . .his sins,” breathing heavily and quickly and sweating profusely — and threatening Crispin with “dangerous consequences” if he spoke up.

The complaint also states that Wancura performed those acts in front of others at the church.

“In committing these sex acts publicly within Caroline Church, the Reverend was attempting to make the young plaintiff think this sick behavior was perhaps acceptable. The Reverend was ‘grooming’ plaintiff, breaking down his natural instinct to flee and, over time, rendering plaintiff powerless to resist the frequent advances,” the complaint said.

After three years, the complaint said, the attacks were taken to “an even more extreme level,” with Wancura telling Crispin to perform a “special task” for him; if he did so, the reverend said he would ask God to protect Crispin and his mother and his sister from all harm.

Crispin believed if he performed the sexual act his family would be safe; the molestation continued for the next year and a half, the complaint said. Crispin was told that if he ever told anyone about the “special task,” the reverend would ask God to stop protecting his mother and sister and his mother might be hit by another truck or his sister might be “hurt badly by violent and bad men,” the complaint said.

Wancura also threatened Crispin with a “barbaric act of castration” if he ever told anyone, the complaint alleges.

Although he quit the choir, Wancura still asked Crispin to go to his house for talks about faith, asked him to retrieve hymnals and other tasks — and continued to grab Crispin and engage in sexual acts, the complaint said.

Wancura’s action caused Crispin “immense guilt, shame, confusion, self-hate, and anger at the time the abuse was occurring and continuing through the present day,” scarring him for life, the complaint said.

The alleged abused caused him emotional, social, and financial ruin, the complaint said.

Crispin has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and morbid obesity and has had extreme anger management problems and bouts of depression for years, the complaint said.

He has been seeing mental health professionals on and off since he was nine years old to try to manage his self-loathing, anger, depression, and other emotional issues resulting from the abuse, the complaint said.

He also “defecated uncontrollably in his pants” during his waking hours until he was 18 years old; has been unable to hold down a job for any extended period because of his inability to regulate his emotions and anger, which caused him to get into altercations with coworkers and superiors; has been homeless during three separate periods of his adult life; and has been “mortally afraid” to have a child, the complaint said.

Crispin has never been married or been able to maintain lasting relationships, the complaint said.

“To this day he sleeps with weapons nearby to be prepared to ward off possible attacks because of his fear and anxiety,” the complaint said.

About 18 to 20 years after Crispin left Caroline Church, a former member of Caroline Church told Crispin that she had heard from her godfather, who was very involved with the church that the reverend “had been molesting children in Caroline Church and that plaintiff was one of these children,” the complaint said.

No actions were taken to remove Wancura, the complaint said. Church officials had “a duty” to warn Crispin, his family and the community about “suspected abuse,” the complaint said.

Neither the Epsicopal Diocese of Long Island nor Caroline Episcopal Church of Setauket returned requests for comment.

Almost a month after he was “restrained” and left in critical condition following a burglary in his Shelter Island Home, the 87-year-old retired priest died of his injuries, Suffolk County Police said.

Wancura was initially in critical condition after he was left in his home for an extended period of time after the burglary, authorities said. At a press conference in Yaphank after the incident, then-Acting Suffolk County Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said Wancura was supposed to assist with a mass at the Church of the Messiah in Central Islip and “didn’t show up.”

The Diocese reached out to a local pastor on Shelter Island to check on his welfare and when he arrived around noon on Monday, March 19, 2018, “he heard noises through the open garage door,” Cameron said. Shelter Island Police officers responded to the residence Oak Tree Lane at 12:40 p.m. where they found him tied up, police said.

Wancura, who was injured, was transported by Suffolk County Aviation in critical condition, requiring surgery.

The priest was believed to have been restrained for an extended period of time.

“He was found between his bed and the wall,” Cameron said.”We do not believe this is a random incident. We believe he was specifically targeted.”

Shelter Island is a safe area, he added. “That’s one reason this is so shocking,” Cameron said. “But we don’t believe this is a random attack and we don’t believe it is affecting the safety of other residents of Shelter Island.”

There was no description of a suspect but police said they believed in 2018 the motive was a burglary. However, police could not detail what, if anything, had been stolen.

When asked if there was anything in Wancura’s life that might have led to the targeted burglary, Cameron said he was an “honorable man” and there was no indication otherwise.

Major Case Section detectives, in cooperation with the Shelter Island Police Department, are still actively investigating the circumstances of the incident.