Priest's Role in Drowning Is Raised
Diocese accused of cover-up on Rev. James Quinn regarding boy's 1968 death.

By Renee K. Gadoua
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
July 29, 2003

The accidental drowning of a Utica boy in 1968 so traumatized another boy that he was unable - until this year - to report he was sexually abused by a priest, a lawyer says.

The statute of limitations, therefore, does not apply in a $150 million lawsuit filed in May against the Rev. James F. Quinn and the Syracuse Diocese, said Utica lawyer Frank Policelli.

In a motion filed Friday in Oneida County, Policelli claims the Syracuse Diocese covered up Quinn's negligence in the 1968 drowning of a 12-year-old boy at Camp Nazareth at Little Long Lake in the Adirondacks.

"This concealment by the diocese of Quinn's negligence having been a substantial factor in causing (the boy's) death is a factor in showing a pattern of misconduct on the part of the defendant diocese to cover up the misdeeds of its priests," Policelli writes in legal papers.

Policelli requests the Syracuse Diocese release Quinn's personnel records related to the drowning. He said the victim's presence at the drowning and severe mental health problems related to sexual abuse by Quinn prevented the plaintiff from filing suit within the statute of limitations, generally three years from the alleged incident.

According to affidavits from the victim, and a brother of the victim, Quinn was supervising a group of altar boys swimming and boating at the diocesan-owned camp. They said when the boy was reported missing, Quinn was not at the camp. Nor was he at the camp when New York State Police found the boy's body, according to the legal papers.

"That's absolutely untrue," Quinn said. "I was supervising the boating at the other end of the lake. I was in an outboard motorboat. There were other adults supervising the swimming area."

Quinn said he called the state police to report the boy missing. He said he did not leave the camp until state police dragged the lake and found the boy's body.

Policelli does not say Quinn is responsible for the boy's death, but he and witnesses suggest the priest was negligent because he left the camp and did not adequately supervise the boys.

The death was ruled accidental, according to a June 14, 1968, article in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

Quinn said diocesan officials did not reprimand him after the accident, nor does he recall anyone else being disciplined.

Quinn was ordained in 1958 and was 35 at the time of the drowning.

A lawsuit filed in May accused Quinn, former director of the Office of Vocation Promotions, of sexually abusing a boy 40 years ago, when he was assistant pastor at St. Agnes Church, Utica. The lawsuit seeks $100 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages. It is the largest amount sought in at least 11 lawsuits accusing priests in the Syracuse Diocese of sexual abuse.

The Post-Standard does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse.

When the lawsuit was filed, Quinn voluntarily took a leave of absence from his job recruiting candidates for the priesthood and denied sexually abusing a minor.

He repeated his denial Monday.

The diocese's review board is continuing to review the allegations the lawsuit makes against Quinn, said Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the diocese.

Quinn continues to do ministry such as saying Mass and hearing confessions, she said.

Neither Paul Hanrahan, a lawyer with the firm of Hancock & Estabrook, which represents the diocese, nor Emil Rossi, who represents Quinn, was available for comment Monday. Cummings was unsure if they had received the motion filed Friday.

"Camp Nazareth ties it all together," Policelli said. "We know that there was a cover-up. It's a pattern of the church to cover up the misdeeds of its priests."

The lawsuit accuses the diocese of conspiring to conceal the abuse and failing to report criminal conduct.

The diocese still runs the camp in the Adirondacks.

Policelli is representing five other clients in lawsuits that accuse three other Syracuse priests of sexual abuse.

Policelli said he went to the former St. Agnes grammar school in Utica, which the alleged victim attended.

He said he did not attend the 1968 picnic and said he had not seen the victim for years before he initiated the lawsuit.

Policelli said he knew Quinn when he was a youth.

In November, state Supreme Court Justice John W. Grow ruled the Syracuse Diocese must release the personnel records of Monsignor H. Charles Sewall to the priest's lawyer.

Policelli also represents three men who are each suing Sewall, Bishop James Moynihan and the diocese. The men say Sewall gave them money in exchange for sex in the 1970s and 1980s.

Policelli said he saw Sewall's personnel records in the spring.

"We got them," he said. "Now they're stalling on Quinn's personnel records."


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