Syracuse diocese files motion to dismiss claims in child abuse case

By Greg Mason
July 28, 2017

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse has requested the dismissal of claims against it as part of a lawsuit accusing a former Utica-area priest of sexually abusing children about three decades ago.

The diocese filed its motion July 10 in Federal District Court in Connecticut in the case involving former priest Felix Colosimo. Colosimo is accused of abusing California resident Matthew Strzepek on multiple occasions from 1987 to 1990 when Strzepek was 12 to 15 years old.

The Syracuse diocese removed Colosimo from priestly ministry in 2014 upon finding Strzepek’s allegations credible. Among other allegations, Strzepek’s lawsuit claims the diocese is liable for Colosimo’s alleged actions and accuses the diocese of failing to respond appropriately.

Strzepek is seeking $25 million in damages each from Colosimo and the diocese. The diocese, however, wants to completely dismiss the allegations against itself.

The court motion is supported with an affidavit from Timothy Elmer, the diocese’s vicar general who served as chancellor from July 2010 to December 2014, according to his affidavit.

Part of Strzepek’s lawsuit stems from an alleged trip he took with Colosimo in 1987, when he was 12, to New York City for a Catholic conference. Strzepek alleged he was then raped by Colosimo during a stay at a Connecticut hotel that fall.

In his affidavit, Elmer states that the diocese did not sponsor any such conference in 1987 nor was Colosimo ever directed by the diocese to attend such a conference. Further, Elmer alleged that Strzepek did not claim any abuse occurred outside of New York when the diocese arranged for him to meet with an investigator about three years ago.

“Felix Colosimo was never sent to the state of Connecticut on behalf of the Diocese of Syracuse for any reason — ministerial, personal, business or otherwise,” the affidavit reads.

The diocese’s court motion further involves an argument that the federal court in Connectitcut does not have personal jurisdiction over the case in accordance to Connecticut’s long-arm statute or the U.S. Constitution.

“Strzepek’s complaint asserts no viable claim against the diocese based on tortuous conduct in Connecticut,” the motion reads. “The only claim based on actions that took place in Connecticut rather than New York is the assault claim, and that claim must be dismissed because, under established law, the diocese is not liable for Colosimo’s intentional torts outside the scope of his employment.”

As for Colosimo, his legal representatives have not yet filed a response to Strzepek’s lawsuit.

Judge Alfred Covello, who is presiding over the case, granted a request from Colosimo’s attorneys to extend the deadline for filing to Wednesday.

The former priest is represented by attorneys Leslie Lewis of New Hartford and Jeffrey Gostyla of Hartford, Connecticut. Lewis declined to comment further, instead pointing to the diocese’s dismissal motion.

“You’ll see the merit of this case is highly suspect,” Lewis said.

Attorney Steve Estey, representing Strzepek, said in a statement that the diocese is “reaching for legal loopholes to avoid accountability.”

“In summary, the Diocese of Syracuse is implying that they have no obligation, moral or legal, for the sexual abuse crimes committed by their priests. Instead, they are protecting their financial assets by blaming Colosimo and ignoring the fact that they knew about Colosimo’s prior sexual abuse conduct,” Estey said in the statement. “And despite that knowledge, they allowed him to be in a position to sexually abuse Strzepek and other children.”



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