|Diocese Decision Awaited for Priest Who Admitted to Abusing Boys
By Jordan Carleo-Evangelist
Albany Times Union
August 19 2010
ALBANY -- A Delaware County priest assigned to several local parishes is poised to be banned permanently from ministry after admitting earlier this month to abusing two young boys, according to a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
James McDevitt, 64, who had most recently served as pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Margaretville, pleaded guilty last week in the Delaware County town of Middletown to two misdemeanor counts of forcible touching, satisfying a raft of similar charges lodged against him last summer.
McDevitt -- who also spent time at St. Pius X Church in Loudonville, St. Mary's Church in Ballston Spa, St. Mary's Hospital and St. Peter's Church in Delhi -- will face six years of probation, including enhanced restrictions placed on sex offenders, at sentencing July 8, said Chief Assistant Delaware County District Attorney John Hubbard.
In a 1997 interview with The Evangelist newspaper marking his ordainment, McDevitt also claimed to have spent time at the LaSalle Institute in Troy, LaSalle School in Albany and Christian Brothers academies in both Albany and Syracuse.
But officials from those schools could not immediately say Wednesday what, if any, positions McDevitt held there -- or when.
McDevitt, a Brooklyn native raised in Lake George and ordained at the age of 51, was arrested last July based on the complaints of six victims that first came to light through an investigation by the county's department of social services, Hubbard said.
McDevitt's plea stems from his abuse of two of those victims, both of whom were boys around 11 years old he had met through the church, Hubbard said.
Each count could have come with up to a year in jail.
McDevitt has been on administrative leave, barred from practicing or representing himself as a priest, since his the accusations were first brought to the attention of the diocese, said spokesman Kenneth Goldfarb.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the diocese had not yet officially been notified of the plea, Goldfarb said.
But, if the account provided him by the Times Union is true, Goldfarb said, it likely would warrant permanent removal from ministry in accordance with the diocese's zero-tolerance policy.
Since 1950, the diocese has removed 23 priests after finding "reasonable grounds to believe that they sexually abused a minor," he said.
Technically, McDevitt would remain a priest unless formally restored to lay status through a process known as laicization -- or, more commonly in cases where it is involuntary, defrocking.
Historically, the diocese has not chosen to go that route because of the length and complexity of the process, which must go through the Vatican in Rome, he said.
"It's a long process, and the main focus is to protect the children," Goldfarb said, adding that a permanent suspension from active ministry effectively accomplishes the same thing.
Prior to the accusations that triggered McDevitt's arrest and plea, Goldfarb said, the diocese had "never received a complaint of any kind of sexual matter involving this priest."
In fact, he said, diocesan officials first learned of the accusations when asked about them by newspaper reporters.
Nonetheless, four alleged victims' families filed suit last month against the diocese and McDevitt in state Supreme Court in Delaware County alleging, among other things, negligence and intentional infliction of a emotional distress.
The diocese, however, is moving to have the case against it dismissed, arguing in part that the plaintiffs improperly named the diocese in the suit when it should have rightly named Sacred Heart church, which is an independently incorporated entity under state law.
"This is not an attempt to circumvent responsibility," said Michael Costello, an Albany attorney representing the diocese. "It's a matter of addressing he claims in the proper format before the court with the proper parties so that the adjudication would be appropriate and effective for all parties concerned."
McDevitt's criminal defense attorney, Paul Gruner of Kingston, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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