"Unspeakably Horrible': Man Recalls Rape by Somers Priest

By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon
Journal News
June 9, 2017

Francis Stinner, a former Catholic Priest, during his years as a teacher at John F. Kennedy High School. He is one of several local priests defrocked for abusing children.

Long before he was defrocked, the Rev. Francis Stinner was a familiar figure in his Somers neighborhood, walking his poodle along the narrow residential streets where local kids were frequently found playing stick ball, kickball or basketball.

Many of them were from Italian- and Irish-Catholic families, and they knew Stinner from the old St. Joseph’s Church in Croton Falls. Some would ultimately sit in his classes at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, just a few miles away on Goldens Bridge Road, where he taught for years.

His home was a neatly-kept, one-story corner house that still sits there today. It is where he raped one of those boys.

"He would give me rides sometimes, buy me, like, soda or that type of thing. I’d be over to his house, and that’s when the incident happened," said the then-12-year-old boy, now a middle-aged father and businessman.

"He gave me something to drink that I would assume now had alcohol or something else in it," he said. "He kind of drugged me, and that’s when the rape happened. There was no one for me to turn to. It was hard for me to understand what happened to me at that age. I repressed it for many years.”

The Journal News/lohud is withholding the man’s name to protect his identity — few close to him know he was sexually abused.

He was among seven current and former Hudson Valley residents who earlier this year received more than $1.5 million in compensation, one of the most recent settlements paid out by the Archdiocese of New York.

The Somers victim received $350,000, one of the highest individual amounts.

“I think it’s accountability," he said. “If you look at his case, he was moved from one place to another place to another place to another place, where he repeated his pattern of behavior. There’s no way that the Archdiocese didn’t know that they were putting other children into harm’s way repeatedly.”

No one answered the door at Stinner's home. A man answering the telephone at the house said he was not Stinner, and said the ex-priest was not available.

Years of complaints

Now 76, Stinner was shielded for years after abuse claims began, and moved to other churches in the Hudson Valley.

Ordained in 1968, he was initially assigned to Immaculate Conception Church in Port Jervis and began teaching at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen in 1973. He was sent to St. Joe's in Croton Falls in 1981 and also taught at Kennedy High School for nearly all of the 1980s.

While at the high school, Stinner had a habit of entering the boy's locker room and watching them as they showered.

In 1991, he was moved to St. Joseph's Church in Bronxville and seven years later to St. John and St. Mary Church in Chappaqua, where he remained until 2001.

In 2005, Stinner was removed from the priesthood, or "laicized," by the Archdiocese, some 17 years after the first abuse complaint against him.

At least five other local priests, all of them now either dead or laicized, were acknowledged to have abused children while serving in the Hudson Valley.

They include John O'Keefe, former president of Stepinac High School in White Plains, Gennaro "Jerry" Gentile, who served in churches in Tuckahoe, Croton-on-Hudson and Poughkeepsie, and Peter Kihm, who was assigned to churches in Nyack, Ossining, Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, among others.

Exterior of John F Kennedy High School in Somers, where former priest Francis Stinner taught through most of the 1980s. He was removed from the priesthood in 2005 amid findings of sexual abuse of children. (Photo: File photo/The Journal News)

According to the volunteer group Survivor's Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, the Catholic Church has paid out as much as $1.3 billion in settlements since the early 1990s. However, the number is considered modest compared to likely civil settlements if victims of abuse by priests were legally able to sue in court.

'We apologize'

Under current state law, a victim of childhood abuse cannot legally file a civil lawsuit past the age of 23, and in some cases the age of 21.

Last year, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan launched a program to allow victims of abuse by Catholic clergy to seek cash relief, called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, or IRCP, which is now in its second phase.

Victims can get more information or file a claim online at the IRCP website.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said 140 victims of abuse filed applications during the first phase, which ended in January. Of those, 122 accepted the settlement offered by the church.

The seven local men, including the Somers victim, were among them.

The deadline for the second phase, originally set for July 31, has now been extended until Nov. 1 because of a recent increase in applications, Zwilling said. More than 50 victims of abuse have filed for compensation, he said.

"Part of what the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program is designed to do is to try to make amends for the mistakes that were made in decades past," Zwilling said. "This is, we hope, an opportunity for healing."

"We apologize to those who were victim survivors for the mistakes that may have been made in decades past," he said. "It's important that people realize that, as Cardinal Dolan has often said, there was a time that the Catholic Church was an example of what not to do to address sexual abuse. Now we are a model of what to do."

Limited accountability

J. Michael Reck, the attorney for the Somers victim, said the program only goes so far because it does not cover alleged abuse by members of Catholic religious orders who were not ordained priests. Still, Reck said it does offer some level of comfort.

"My view on it is that participation in the IRCP program offers the survivors some measure of justice. It's not full justice, but it's a measure of justice," he said. "So, it is a way to seek an accountability and an acknowledgement that this happened, and that it was not the survivor's fault. That's an important aspect of the healing process."

Francis J. Stinner, who was removed from the priesthood in 2005 amid repeated complaints about sexual abuse. (Photo: Photo provided by Times Herald-Record)

His client, who was abused by Stinner at age 12, said he kept his attack secret for years as he lapsed into alcoholism. It wasn't until about 12 years ago that he mentioned it in passing to a friend. In the years that followed, he spoke to a prosecutor about the incident, and later connected with SNAP, the volunteer group.

After enlisting Reck, he applied for compensation and received the settlement.

But it hasn't made the attack any less painful to recall.

The rape was part of a pattern of sexual abuse and harassment that lasted for years, and included fondling and other inappropriate acts with the boy inside Stinner’s car.

It is something that he said changed his life.

“There’s been generations of children in that neighborhood since this happened to me, and I have no idea if anything happened to them or not,” he said. “I just want people who live in the area to know. There’s no Megan’s Law or anything of that stuff for a lot of these guys because it was handled by the Archdiocese.”









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