Syracuse clergy abuse scandal: Priest cleared in life, blacklisted in death

By Julie Mcmahon
December 18, 2018

In this 1995 file photo, Rev. James F. Quinn speaks about the priesthood to students at Bishop Ludden High School.
Photo by Stephen D. Cannerelli

In this 2008 file photo, Father James Quinn comforts longtime parishioners after Sunday mass. Quinn was serving as senior priest in residence at the Church of St. Peter at 709 James St. in Syracuse.
Photo by Michelle Gabel

St. Agnes Church in Utica, where Rev. James F. Quinn served for several years, was sold by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and is now used by a Baptist congregation. John "Babe" Zumpano lived across the street in the '60s and claimed Quinn abused him throughout his teenage years.
Photo by Julie McMahon

The Catholic church fought John Zumpano when he tried in 2003 to prove a priest sexually abused him as a child.

Zumpano went to court armed with statements from a former teacher and ex-classmates who went on to illustrious careers. He had hospital reports and therapy notes. Sworn affidavits told of the boy’s regular overnight presence at the rectory of the Utica church, of shared hotel rooms between the teen and the Rev. James F. Quinn.

The Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese defeated Zumpano. A judge reluctantly threw out the case on procedural grounds. Too much time -- 30 years -- had passed between the alleged abuse and the lawsuit.

And then, two weeks ago, Quinn’s name showed up on the list.

After 15 years, the diocese appeared to finally admit it was wrong. It acknowledged Quinn likely abused Zumpano by offering his family compensation through a program for victims. It placed Quinn on a list of “priests permanently removed from ministry” in accordance with church rules designed to protect children. The diocese reached that conclusion using evidence that surfaced in the victim’s failed lawsuit.

But the reversal comes too late.

By the end of 2004, Quinn was back in ministry. The diocese announced it “cleared” Quinn due to a lack of evidence.

Diocese Chancellor Danielle Cummings said the Diocesan Review Board, tasked with reviewing sex abuse claims, determined the accusations against Quinn were not credible at the time.

Policelli said the diocese’s investigation was shoddy. He said he was never contacted as part of the process by which Quinn was “cleared.” Policelli said neither he, nor his client or any of the witnesses he was aware of were interviewed.

Cummings insisted the diocese conducted a “very lengthy investigation” at the time. She said “there are no regrets” about the investigation, which included a review of the court affidavits from witnesses and the victim.

In 2014, the diocese received a complaint from another alleged victim. The victim claimed Quinn abused him in the late 1980s. The diocese said it didn’t have enough information to determine the credibility of the claim. Cummings said the diocese has not received any other complaints against Quinn.

Cummings said the board again reviewed the Zumpano case this year as part of its compensation program for victims. She said the diocese had received letters from community members and others encouraging officials to take another look at the case, “with a fresh set of eyes.”

This time, the diocese found Zumpano’s claims to be credible, Cummings said.

Policelli said he represented Zumpano’s estate in the compensation program and was offered a financial settlement. He said there was no new information on the Zumpano case presented.

“All the facts were contained in our lawsuit,” Policelli said. “I don’t know why they felt back then it was to their advantage to publicly clear him. There was overwhelming evidence of his guilt, more than I have ever seen in a clergy sex abuse case.”

7 years of abuse

Babe Zumpano met Father Quinn playing baseball outside the St. Agnes School in east Utica across the street from his family’s home, he recalled in a 2003 affidavit. The affidavit provided the following account:

Quinn offered Zumpano odd jobs around the school and rectory, and would ask him to hang around to drink a cocktail after he finished up chores. Quinn would pour himself a Manhattan, and offer Zumpano a Tom Collins.

The sexual abuse began when Zumpano was 13. Quinn would tell Zumpano sex was necessary to cure the priest’s migraines.

Zumpano’s brother and a former classmate David D’Alessandro recalled in court papers how the teenager would spend the night in the rectory upstairs.

D’Alessandro, who went on to become the CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, and another classmate, a former Oneida County assistant district attorney, recounted in court papers how Quinn made travel arrangements for the local Catholic Youth Organization. In trips to Miami and Chicago, Quinn would share a room with Zumpano; the rest of the boys would stay together.

In the lawsuit, Zumpano claimed Quinn gave him cash, gifts, clothes and even a car in exchange for his silence. Zumpano said when he resisted, Quinn would beat him. He said Quinn would interrupt dates if Zumpano went out with girls in high school. He signed Zumpano up to be CYO president and enrolled him at Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School instead of letting him attend the public school in Utica, according to the lawsuit.

Zumpano’s older brother Joseph said he confronted Quinn once. Joseph Zumpano said in an affidavit his younger brother grew close to Quinn after his parents divorced and his mother and siblings moved in across the street from the church. Joseph Zumpano and his girlfriend at the time of the encounter wrote affidavits describing how Quinn responded.

The girlfriend recalled that Zumpano was upstairs and Quinn was dressed in a T-shirt and slacks when they entered the rectory. When the older brother questioned their close relationship, Quinn insisted: “I love John.”

Quinn is dead. He was removed five years after his death, having lived out the end of his days a “cleared” -- even celebrated -- priest with unrestricted access to parishioners and children. He vehemently denied the allegations until his death in 2013. During a more than 50-year career with the Syracuse diocese, Quinn worked as a recruiter of priests, pastor, camp director and youth leader.

Defeat in life, victory in death

More than 30 years after his abuse ended, John “Babe” Zumpano filed the lawsuit.

He enlisted the help of an old classmate and Utica lawyer Frank Policelli. Together they sued the diocese, Bishop James Moynihan and Quinn, claiming the priest sexually abused Zumpano starting when he was 13 years old in 1963. Zumpano said the abuse lasted for seven years.

At the time of the lawsuit, Zumpano’s mother had just died. He had lived all his adult life with her. Therapists wrote that he was for the first time expected to make decisions for himself. The lawsuit, they wrote in papers filed in court, offered Zumpano some kind of vindication for the abuse he endured as a child.

But New York state law didn’t allow Zumpano to get what he was looking for: The statute of limitations prevented him from suing more than 10 years after the abuse occurred.

At the time of the lawsuit, Quinn agreed to take a leave of absence from the church. He was living in residence at St. Ann’s in Manlius and working as the diocese’s recruiter.

Quinn denied the allegations and insisted he would be exonerated. He released a statement through his attorney Emil Rossi saying he was shocked. He called the allegations “completely false and utterly baseless.”

“I can tell you that I know the individual filing the lawsuit,” Quinn said in the statement. “… I know that I will be exonerated and I pray for this individual who feels, for whatever reason, he must come forward with these untruths.”

Oneida County Supreme Court Judge Norman Siegel dismissed the case in December 2003, seven months after it was filed. The judge encouraged the victim’s lawyer Policelli to file an appeal. He noted he was dismissing the case because of the statute of limitations. He suggested two former classmates who submitted affidavits on Zumpano’s behalf were credible.

“So I am going to rule in favor of the defendants, unfortunately,” Siegel said, according to a court transcript. “… I don’t want anybody to get the impression that I in any way disbelieve what your client has said,” he told Policelli. “I certainly don’t disbelieve what the chief executive officer of John Hancock said or the district attorney said.”

Policelli’s attempts on appeal were unsuccessful.

Joseph Zumpano wrote that Quinn kept his little brother away from his family.

Babe Zumpano was hospitalized multiple times for suicide attempts and cutting himself, according to hospital records filed in court. According to the brother, Quinn often accompanied the teenager to the hospital, and at least once barred their mother from seeing the boy.

Two therapists who treated Zumpano wrote in court papers that he was one of the most severely damaged clients they had ever encountered.

One therapist said he ruled out the possibility that Zumpano fabricated his accounts of Quinn’s abuse because of the clarity and consistency of his recollections.

Justice, in death

While Quinn continued his career as a prominent priest in Syracuse, Zumpano suffered from various mental health disorders.

The diocese celebrated Quinn’s life at the time of his death in 2013 at 80 years old. A copy of his obituary remains posted to the diocese website.

According to his obituary, Quinn ministered at 11 Central New York churches throughout his life. Three of those assignments appear to be after the lawsuit, according to diocesan records gathered by the law firm Anderson & Associates. Quinn ministered at St. Peter and Our Lady of Pompeii in Syracuse and Sacred Heart in Cicero in the 10 years before his death, according to the records.

The obituary describes Quinn as an avid traveler who went from Broadway to Asia. It notes that as recruitment director, he published promotional materials used by 40 dioceses and 12 countries. It mentions his 12 years as area director for the Catholic Youth Organization as well as his chaplaincy at Morrisville College and a time when he worked as a summer camp director.

Babe Zumpano died at 66 years old in 2015. Policelli said Zumpano died from a serious illness that affected his ability to function. His obituary asks mourners to make donations to the ALS Association. Zumpano never married or had any children. His brother declined to comment on behalf of the family.

Earlier this year, the diocese contacted Policelli, who has represented 10 victims in cases against the Syracuse diocese, to discuss its newly-formed compensation program for victims of sex abuse.

That’s around the time the diocese review board determined Zumpano’s claims to be credible. His family was offered a settlement, Policelli said.

Vindication came for Babe Zumpano, finally, after his death.



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