Lawsuit Proceeds Despite Priest's Death

By Ariel Zangla
Daily Freeman
July 13, 2008

A LAWSUIT against a group that used to investigate claims of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany will go forward despite the death of the plaintiff clergyman, his attorney says.

Attorney John Aretakis said he plans to continue the $2 million legal action on behalf of the Rev. Mark Jaufmann, who died March 21 in southern California. The case against the Independent Mediation Assistance Program - which stems from sexual abuse allegations Jaufmann made against a Greene County priest - was pending at the time of Jaufmann's death and will be allowed to continue with the priest's brothers as plaintiffs, the lawyer said. He also said video and audio recordings of Jaufmann's statements to an IMAP investigator could be used in the suit.

"I believe the case will go on," Aretakis said.

A priest with the Ecumenical Catholic Communion in California, Jaufmann filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in October 2006, alleging IMAP was not independent of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, as it claimed. Also named as defendants in the suit are retired New York Court of Appeals Justice Howard Levine, the law firm of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna, and the New York State Dispute Resolution Association. Levine formerly administered the Independent Mediation Assistance Program, which discontinued its work in November 2006 after stating no new claims were coming in.

Jaufmann, who was 51 when he died of apparent heart problems, used the services of IMAP after alleging he had been sexually abused as a child by the Rev. Jeremiah Nunan while a parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Hudson. Nunan, who now serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Cairo and Our Lady of Knock Mission in East Durham, took a leave of absence from the two Greene County churches while Jaufmann's claims were investigated. He later was absolved of wrongdoing by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and returned to his ministry.

In a written statement, Aretakis said Jaufmann scored a legal victory last year when the court refused to dismiss his case against the Independent Mediation Assistance Program.

The lawyer also believes Jaufmann's death to be suspicious because, he said, the priest received a death threat just two weeks before he died. Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Investigations, however, said Jaufmann died of natural causes, specifically atherosclerotic heart disease.

Winter said Jaufmann, who had been living in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles County, was found unresponsive on a walking path in a park on March 21 and was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders. Jaufmann was alone when he was found, Winter said.

The Independent Mediation Assistance Program was created by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany in 2004 to look into allegations of abuse against young people by current or former priests or deacons in the diocese. Jaufmann's lawsuit contends the program was not independent of the diocese and that the diocese was responsible for the bills, costs and administrative expenses for the program and Levine.


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