Clergy Abuse Survivor Sues Syracuse Catholic Diocese Hours after New Law Takes Effect
By Julie McMahon
February 14, 2019
|Manlius native Kevin Braney, at center in the crowd, is pictured with New York state legislators including Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, and Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who supported and passed the Child Victims Act in January. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law today. (Hans Pennink)|
A survivor of clergy sexual abuse in Central New York filed a lawsuit against the Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese, this afternoon after a new law lifted restrictions on such suits.
The Child Victims Act, passed in New York in January and signed by the governor today, gives victims until their 55th birthday to file civil suits against their abusers and institutions.
Kevin Braney, 46, filed his lawsuit hours after Cuomo at 11:25 a.m. signed the bill, which went into effect immediately. By 3 p.m., Braney had filed accusations against three priests who he says raped and molested him over about two years beginning in 1988. As a teenager, he served as an altar boy at St. Ann’s Church in Manlius.
The lawsuit is the first reported in the Syracuse diocese. It is likely one of the first filed in New York state under the new Child Victims Act.
Chancellor Danielle Cummings said the Syracuse diocese had just learned of the lawsuit and had not yet had time to review the claims. She declined to comment.
Braney last year rejected a $300,000 settlement offer from the diocese through a compensation program set up for victims. Braney said his goal is not a financial settlement but to expose abuses by individual priests and cover-ups by the Catholic church. He said he’s committed to having a jury hear his claims.
“Every day I get a step closer to justice, the further I get from the horrors of the past,” he said.
Two priests Braney accuses in the lawsuit were named to the Syracuse diocese’s list of clergy members with credible claims against them last year. Both are deceased.
A third priest, who is active, was previously cleared by diocesan officials and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick of allegations brought forward by Braney.
Braney, represented by lawyers Jon Little and Jessica Wegg of Saeed & Little law firm in Indiana, accuses the diocese, Bishop Robert Cunningham and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of sheltering and protecting problem priests in Central New York “in a coordinated scheme” to shield the church from lawsuits and financial liabilities.
The lawsuit accuses clergy members and administrators of negligence, conspiracy and fraud, contract breach, defamation and causing victims emotional distress. It accuses individual priests of assault, battery and false imprisonment.
The lawyers have filed the case as a class action lawsuit, which allows other victims to sign on.
Braney accuses a third priest
Braney first reported allegations of child sexual abuse to the diocese in 2013. A year later, one of his alleged abusers and former Bishop Ludden High School principal Monsignor Charles Eckermann was removed from ministry.
The diocese said at the time it was unable to determine the credibility of Braney’s accusations against Father James Quinn, who was deceased. Both Quinn and Eckermann, who is also dead, appeared on the diocese’s list of priests with credible allegations against them in 2018. (Read about another case involving Quinn, and how he was “cleared” in life, then blacklisted after his death.)
Braney’s lawsuit includes claims against a third priest, Rev. Paul Angelicchio, who is currently pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Rome, N.Y., according to the diocese website. A reporter left a message for Angelicchio at St. John the Baptist Church seeking comment. His personal attorney, Tom Murphy, said he had just learned of the lawsuit and declined to comment further.
|Rev. Paul Angelicchio is pictured at right in this 2003 file photo taken during mass at Holy Family Church in Syracuse.|
Braney’s allegations against Angelicchio up until now have not been reported publicly, though the diocese suspended the priest in 2016, then cleared him of wrongdoing a month later.
On the same day the diocese announced he had been placed on leave in Dec. 2016, DA William Fitzpatrick said his office had investigated and determined there was no proof or evidence of wrongdoing by Angelicchio.
The diocese two weeks later said the allegations against Angelicchio were deemed unfounded and returned the priest to ministry. DA Fitzpatrick later wrote a letter to syracuse.com saying Braney was “not a credible victim.” Fitzpatrick said today he stood by his remarks in the letter.
Braney’s lawsuit details about two years of alleged abuse, mostly by Angelicchio and Eckermann together at St. Ann’s in Manlius. He alleges Quinn assaulted him separately while visiting Eckermann at St. Ann’s during this time.
The lawsuit alleges the priests set up a torture room in the basement where a lot of the abuse occurred. Braney claims that Angelicchio took Polaroid photographs of the abuse, and Eckermann regularly threatened him with a gun, saying he would hurt the boy’s family if he resisted or told anyone. The lawsuit claims the frequent, violent sexual abuse often left Braney bloody and in pain.
Braney said he came forward later with his claims against Angelicchio after undergoing therapy and experiencing flashbacks.
“I have PTSD. I have come to understand that it’s somewhat typical, how it all unfolded for me … you don’t have control about how the flashbacks come,” Braney said in an interview. “It’s a complex, messy situation.”
Braney claims in the lawsuit he and other victims have been forced to “endure additional abuse and manipulation” as they attempted to report abuse to the diocese and get help paying for therapy.
The lawsuit says the church requires Braney and other victims who want therapy costs reimbursed to sign releases allowing the diocese to obtain clinical notes taken at therapy sessions.
Braney claimed when he first contacted the diocese, Syracuse officials were unwilling to pay for the PTSD treatment recommended by medical professionals because it exceeded their set rate and number of sessions. Braney, who now lives in Colorado, said he had to travel to Syracuse to discuss the payments with Bishop Cunningham, who then agreed to pay for additional treatment.
|1984 file photo The Post-Standard|
Suit claims Syracuse diocese allowed abuse to run rampant
The class action lawsuit attempts to show that the Syracuse diocese knew about problem priests but allowed them to continue working and living in the diocese in close proximity to children.
It references a letter from a nun who warns of abusive priests from Baltimore being shuffled into Syracuse and a syracuse.com article on the Tommy Coyne house where retired priests, including some known abusers, were provided housing by the diocese.
James.jpg In this 1995 file photo, Rev. James F. Quinn speaks about the priesthood to students at Bishop Ludden High School. Stephen D. Cannerelli | email@example.com
The suit claims that prior to Braney’s abuse, the diocese should have known to keep Eckermann, Quinn and Angelicchio away from children.
The lawyers point to evidence that Eckermann was sexually deviant and broke his vow of chastity when police officers spotted him repeatedly soliciting male prostitutes in Syracuse in 1984. A police officer told syracuse.com he recalled reporting Eckermann’s behavior to the bishop at the time.
The lawsuit points to allegations against Quinn going back years. It claims at least one other victim, who is not identified, has reported abuse by Angelicchio to the diocese.
Braney accuses the diocesan officials and DA Fitzpatrick of failing to conduct a thorough investigation into his claims against Angelicchio in 2016. The lawsuit accuses the diocese of negligence for engaging in a pattern of discrediting, intimidating and silencing victims of priests.
Lawyers for Braney estimate there are hundred of survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Syracuse diocese. Church officials have formally recognized 85 victims, who were invited to participate in a compensation program last year.
It’s not yet clear whether the Child Victims Act will open the floodgates to lawsuits against the eight dioceses in New York state. When the legislature passed the bill, administrators for five compensation programs in the state said a majority of the 1,236 victims who had been offered settlements took them and agreed not to sue.
Just four in New York, including Braney, had rejected their offers at the time.