Federal Lawsuit against Convicted Priest Advances
By Don Lehman
October 23, 2013
A federal judge has declined to dismiss a federal lawsuit against a former local Catholic priest who was convicted of repeatedly molesting two young male parishioners.
A Queensbury resident who has alleged he was molested by the Rev. Gary Mercure is seeking unspecified damages for “sexual exploitation and abuse of children.”
Mercure, who is serving a prison sentence in Massachusetts for child molestation, could stand trial in U.S. District Court in Vermont as early as the spring.
U.S. District Judge William Sessions III recently refused to dismiss the lawsuit, which also names as a defendant the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
The diocese is accused of “breach of fiduciary duty” for not properly supervising Mercure.
The plaintiff, whose name is being withheld because The Post-Star does not identify victims of sexual abuse, filed the lawsuit in August 2011. It was filed in Vermont because Mercure is accused of taking the victim there for the purpose of sexual abuse.
Lawyers for both the diocese and Mercure have denied the allegations and sought dismissal of the lawsuit by claiming Vermont did not have jurisdiction over the case.
In a 14-page decision and order though, Sessions found that since priests from the Albany Diocese have celebrated Mass at Vermont churches and the diocese newspaper circulates there, there was sufficient proof of jurisdiction.
He called it a “close call,” however.
“Viewed together, the diocese’s contacts with Vermont ... are sufficiently continuous and systematic to render the diocese at home in Vermont,” Sessions wrote.
The Times Union of Albany reported last week that the diocese had been forced to open up part of its personnel file on Mercure during pre-trial discovery in the lawsuit. The diocese had sought a court order sealing that portion of the file.
That file showed that the diocese was aware Mercure was accused of using church money to take young boys on trips and buy gifts for them, and that he was sent to a treatment facility in Pennsylvania for priests who broke their vow of celibacy or committed sexual abuse in 1994, according to the Times Union.
He was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls after he got out of that facility, despite a man with whom he had a sexual relationship in the early 1990s saying he warned the diocese of Mercurer’s proclivities.
Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb said the outpatient treatment occurred after the diocese learned Mercure had a consensual sexual relationship with an adult male, and that there were no allegations he abused children before he was assigned to St. Mary’s.
“At that time he was removed as a pastor, placed on leave as a priest and required to undergo residential outplacement treatment. We were told the treatment was successful, at least that’s what we were told, diocese took action to remove Mercure when it first learned of allegations he had sexual contact with young boys.
“It wasn’t until several years later, in 2008, that the diocese received a complaint he had sexually abused a minor,” Goldfarb said. “He was immediately removed from ministry and the matter was turned over to law enforcement authorities, which ultimately resulted in his conviction in Massachusetts.”
Goldfarb said the diocese is also seeking to appeal Sessions’ decision.
Mercure, 65, is serving a 20- to 25-year prison sentence in Massachusetts after being convicted of child rape and indecent assault. He served as pastor at St. Mary’s Church and Our Lady of Annunciation Church in the 1980s and 1990s.
The two victims in the Massachusetts criminal case were members of the Queensbury parish, and testimony showed Mercure took them to Massachusetts for recreational outings and sexually assaulted them there. There were also allegations he repeatedly sexually abused the boys in Warren County, but the case could not be prosecuted here because of statutes of limitations.
Massachusetts has different statutes that allowed for the prosecution.