Former Catholic school student awarded millions in sexual abuse case against principal

WHAM-TV, Ch. 13 [Rochester NY]

March 19, 2024

By Jackie Napier

[Includes video.]

A $5.4 million verdict has been awarded to a former Siena Catholic Academy student who alleges he was sexually abused.

The plaintiff testified that he was sexually abused by Father Joseph Grasso, the school’s former principal, for more than a year starting in 2002, when he was just 12 years old. Grasso was the school administrator at the now-closed academy from 1998 to 2004.

In 2019, the New York Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse to take their cases to court.

“A strong reason I believe the Child Victims Act was passed was to address the fact that many survivors, many victims of childhood sexual assault, do not feel they are able to come forward until adulthood,” says attorney Amy Keller.

Keller says one of those people is her client, referred to as “LG 55 Doe,” who says he was sexually assaulted by Father Grasso multiple times.

“He started grooming him initially, and then it progressed to physical contact,” says Keller. “He started bringing him over to the adjacent St. Thomas More Church, and he sexually assaulted him numerous times in the sacristy of the church.”

In court paperwork, Doe alleges that Father Grasso threatened he would go to hell if he told anyone about the abuse.

The defense submitted an email from a former St. Thomas More altar boy, who writes that he cannot imagine Father Grasso abusing anyone. The boy states he believes Grasso avoided being alone with students. In another email, the priest asserts his innocence and says he is shocked by the accusations.

“What the victim testified that he really wanted throughout this entire process was an apology,” says Keller. “He wanted that defendant to apologize for what he did to him, and the defendant refused to do that.”

Doe, now in his 30s, says the sexual assaults destroyed his life. He adds that he even tried to commit suicide.

Jurors have now awarded Doe $5,450,000 for medical expenses, lost wages and damages, according to Keller.

“I hope that the message is loud and clear — if you’re sexually assaulted as a child or you prey upon and victimize the youngest, most innocent members of the community — specifically in Monroe County — they will hold the person responsible, and they will do that in a significant, significant way,” says Keller.

Defense attorneys did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this report. 13WHAM also reached out to the Diocese of Rochester — which operated Siena until its closing in 2020 — and did not yet hear back.

Father Grasso is a chaplain at the VA Hospital in Albany.