Today's Child Victims Act filings detail heart-wrenching stories of sexual abuse

By Aaron Besecker, Mary B. Pasciak, Matthew Spina And Dan Herbeck
Buffalo News
August 14, 2019

Most of the lawsuits filed Wednesday target the Buffalo Diocese.
Photo by Sharon Cantillon

Cheryl Bentley was in the third grade when, she said, Monsignor James P. Hayes began sexually abusing her.
Photo by Derek Gee

More than 100 people filed Child Victims Act lawsuits Wednesday in Western New York over old allegations of sexual abuse.

But the accusation against the Rev. Francis T. Hogan appeared to be the oldest – dating back 71 years.

In a lawsuit against the Buffalo Diocese, a plaintiff who was not named alleges that Hogan abused him in 1948 to 1949 at St. John's Church in Jamestown. The victim, who had been an altar boy, was about 9 to 10 at the time, the suit said.

Hogan died in 2010. In 2018, the diocese identified Hogan as a priest who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Nearly all of the people accused of molesting children in 105 Child Victims Act lawsuits filed Wednesday in five Western New York counties were Catholic priests.

But the Boy Scouts of America, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the East Aurora School District, the Jesuits and other organizations are also named as defendants. At least 98 of the lawsuits are against the Diocese of Buffalo.

A one-year "look-back" window opened at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday under a new state law that gives abuse victims a year to file claims that previously were prohibited from moving forward in court. Below is a look at some of the lawsuits filed.

The News does not identify sexual abuse victims without their consent.

Abuse in Niagara Falls alleged 

A lawsuit alleges that the Rev. Florian A. Jasinski, a priest at St. Stanislaus Kostka in Niagara Falls, engaged in "unpermitted sexual contact" with a plaintiff who was 8 to 9 years old in 1982 to 1983. The plaintiff participated in church and youth activities at St. Stanislaus.

In 2018, the diocese said Jasinski was credibly accused of molesting minors. Jasinski died in 1983.

Rev. Gerald P. Sheehan accused in suit

The late Rev. Gerald P. Sheehan is accused of molesting a 7-year-old victim in 1973 while at St. Martin of Tours in South Buffalo, a lawsuit alleges.

Sheehan, whose name has surfaced before as a likely abuser, died in 2006. He had spent 42 years as a priest.

The diocese in 2018 said Sheehan had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Sheehan died in 2006.

Another lawsuit targets the Rev. Norbert Orsolits

A lawsuit alleges the Rev. Norbert Orsolitis sexually abused a plaintiff who was 13 or 14 in 1968 and attending St. John the Evangelist in Buffalo.

Orsolitis in 2018 admitted to a Buffalo News reporter that he had sexual contact with minors over the years – “probably dozens,” he said – but said it was consensual.

13 plaintiffs accuse priests, 1 nun in 1 lawsuit

Matthew Scott Heldwein and a dozen other defendants are suing the Diocese of Buffalo in a sweeping lawsuit that names schools and churches, and accuses a number of priests and a nun of abuse.

Heldwein accuses the Rev. Luke Rutter of abusing him at St. Francis High School. Rutter was a Franciscan order priest who taught at St. Francis High School in the 1980s and died in 2000 at age 51. The diocese has not identified Rutter as a priest credibly accused of molesting children.

The nun, who was not fully identified in the complaint, was at Corpus Christi Church and School when she sexually abused a male plaintiff, the lawsuit says.

3 people accuse Rev. Joseph Friel of abuse

The Rev. Joseph Friel preyed on a series of children at two churches in the middle to late 1960s, according to lawsuits filed on Wednesday by three different people.

Friel abused a 13-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of Victory National Shrine in 1966, one plaintiff alleges. The same year and into 1967, Friel abused a child about 12 years old at Fourteen Holy Helpers in Cheektowaga, according to another lawsuit.

A third plaintiff, Chris Szuflita, alleges that Friel abused him at Fourteen Holy Helpers from 1967 to 1969, starting when he was 14. Szuflita in 1994 unsuccessfully sued the diocese, seeking $2 million in damages for the harm caused by Friel. But he dropped his case after diocese attorneys argued that it violated the state’s statute of limitations.

Nun accused of molesting child

A victim identified in court papers as AB 128 Doe claims that he or she was repeatedly molested by a North Tonawanda nun in the 1950s.

The lawsuit charged that a nun, identified in court papers only as Sister Claudia, SSJ, with the Sisters of St. Joseph, molested the child from 1956 through 1958, beginning when the child was 6. The nun served in programs working with youngsters at Ascension Church in North Tonawanda, the suit says.

Former pastor at Most Precious Blood accused

A lawsuit alleges that Monsignor J. Grant Higgins, who served as pastor from 1983 until 1997 at Most Precious Blood Church in Angola, sexually abused a child.

The lawsuit alleges Higgins engaged in "unpermitted sexual contact" with the plaintiff in 1990 to 1991 when the plaintiff was 9 and 10 years old.

Higgins, who died in 2016, was identified by the diocese last year as being credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors. He was one of four former priests at Most Precious Blood in that category.

Ex-Lockport school priest publicly accused for first time 

A man from Santa Rosa, Calif., has alleged he was sexually abused in the early to mid-1970s by a priest and wrestling coach at what was then St. Francis DeSales Catholic High School in Lockport, according to a lawsuit.

The lawsuit against the diocese, DeSales Catholic School and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales accuses the Rev. Lehr Barkenquest of abusing the teenager, including during wrestling practice. The man alleges that he told a school administrator about the abuse when it started, but nothing was done to stop it.

Barkenquest died in January, according to an obituary on He started teaching in Lockport in 1968, later becoming school principal. He also taught in Toledo, Ohio, and was a pastor in Clarklake, Mich., according to his obituary.

Former altar boy files lawsuit

A North Buffalo man who says he was sexually abused by a priest for about a year starting when he was 8 is suing the diocese, St. Edmund Church and St. Christopher Church.

David J. Harvey, who was an altar boy at the time, alleges that the Rev. David J. Peter molested and raped him from around 1978 through 1979 in the Town of Tonawanda church then known as St. Edmund, according to the lawsuit.

The Rev. Edward L. Kazmierczak named in suit

Monsignor Edward L. Kazmierczak is accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old parishioner of St. Casimir Church in Kaisertown for about a year, starting in 1975. A lawsuit names the Diocese of Buffalo and St. Casimir as defendants. Kazmierczak died in 2001.

Diocese sued over alleged abuse from 1955

The Rev. Francis X. Baumgarten is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a 13-year-old child from 1955 to 1956. The lawsuit does not indicate where the alleged abuse took place, but says Baumgarten was employed by Nativity of Our Lord in Orchard Park and by the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary at the time.

Baumgarten died in 1989 after 53 years as a priest, much of it teaching at the seminary. The lawsuit names the Diocese of Buffalo, Nativity of Our Lord and the seminary as defendants.

Victim says he told bishop about abuse

Angelo J. Ervolina accused Monsignor Michael J. Harrington, the longtime priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Buffalo, of molesting him in 1965 when he was 10 and Harrington took him on a trip to New York City.

Ervolina alleges in his lawsuit he told Bishop James A. McNulty about the abuse shortly after it happened because he delivered newspapers to McNulty’s house.

The diocese allowed Harrington to serve as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church for 25 years until he retired in 1985. It didn't identify Harrington as a child molester until March 2018. Harrington died in 1989.

Former East Aurora teacher accused of abusing student

A woman who was a student at East Aurora Middle School in the 1970s says in a lawsuit that her gym teacher molested her when she was about 13.

The plaintiff, now living in Hull, Mass., accuses Kathleen A. Kirk of having sexual contact with her, primarily in the teacher’s home or in the victim’s home, from 1973 to 1975.

“First I’m hearing of it,” said Kirk, who is now 70 and no longer teaches for the district. “So no, I really don’t have any comment.”

According to the complaint, the victim was contacted by the East Aurora district in 1982 and told it was investigating Kirk, and the teacher later admitted sleeping with the student. But Kirk was not immediately removed from her position, the complaint said.

Former St. Francis High priest accused

A man who was a student at St. Francis High School in Hamburg is accusing the Rev. Michael Lewandowski, who was a teacher and wrestling coach, of repeatedly sexually abusing him, starting in 1971.

The lawsuit alleges that Lewandowski would fondle the student while the two were wrestling. "On multiple occasions, Lewandowski insisted Plaintiff drink wine prior to these acts of sexual abuse," the lawsuit stated. The suit alleged that the victim reported the abuse to the principal at St. Francis but the principal "ignored" his complaint and that the abuse continued.

Lewandowski was suspended from any public ministry in 2014 after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor. According to Buffalo Diocese records, Lewandowski taught at St. Francis from 1976 to 1982, taught at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Buffalo from 1982 to 1989, and then returned to St. Francis until 1991.

Priest that diocese returned to parish is accused

Before the Child Victims Act, Matthew Golden tried suing the Buffalo Diocese as a public nuisance. That case was dismissed. Now that the act has opened a window for lawsuits, Golden has filed a new complaint alleging that the Rev. Dennis Riter abused him while Riter served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Buffalo.

Through an attorney, Riter has denied Golden’s allegations. The priest was suspended in 2018 but allowed to return as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk after a diocesan investigation did not substantiate allegations against him.

In his lawsuit, Golden says Riter engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with him for three years, beginning in 1996 when he was 10.

Priest who admitted molesting 'dozens' named in suit

The priest whose admissions to a Buffalo News reporter about molesting “probably dozens” of boys helped spark the recent surge in clergy abuse allegations is accused in a lawsuit of abusing a boy from about 1979 to 1981.

Jonpaul Okul alleges the Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits abused him when he was about 9 to 11 years old and participated in church and youth activities at St. John Vianney in Orchard Park, which is named in the lawsuit along with the diocese.

Lawsuit: Priest helped raise child, then abused him

A priest assigned to help a woman raise her four children in the 1970s allegedly sexually abused one of them for five years, beginning when the boy was 10. A lawsuit says the Rev. Linus Hennessy abused the boy in his home when his mother was at work and at Bishop Timon High School in South Buffalo, where Hennessy was assigned.

The priest told the boy after each incident not to tell anyone what happened and offered the boy money to keep quiet, the suit alleges.

Hennessy died in 1983. The diocese has been paying for the plaintiff’s counseling since 2008, when he reported the abuse to the diocese. Bishop Timon, the diocese, and the Franciscan Friars are named as defendants.

Lawsuit: Priest forced brothers to have sex with each other 

Two brothers were raped by their priest and were forced to rape each other while the priest watched, the siblings allege in a lawsuit.

The Rev. William F. White III allegedly sexually abused the boys for nearly a decade at Annunciation Church, now known as Our Lady of Hope, in the Black Rock section of Buffalo, the suit says.

The brothers say White began grooming them in 1982, when they were younger than 11. Within two years, he was abusing them in the rectory as well as in his parents’ house in South Buffalo and in a retreat in West Valley, they allege. He often gave them drugs and alcohol before and after the abuse and paid them to keep quiet, the lawsuit alleges.

White was suspended from priestly duties in 1993, after the boys’ mother reported the abuse to the diocese. He died in 2016. The diocese last year identified him as being credibly accused of molesting children.

The Rev. Bernard M. Mach accused in suit

A lawsuit accuses the late Rev. Bernard M. Mach of molesting a 7-year-old child in 1974 at the old St. Gerard’s Church in Buffalo.

Attorney Steven Boyd said the plaintiff came from a “devout Catholic family” that trusted Mach.

Mach, who died in 2004, is on the Buffalo Diocese list of priests credibly accused of molesting children. The diocese previously settled a $2 million lawsuit filed in 1993 that accused Mach of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in the rectory of St. Mary's Church in Lockport.

Jesuit priest accused

The Rev. James Gould, a Jesuit priest, was accused in a lawsuit of molesting a 13-year-old child at St. Ann’s Church in Buffalo in the mid-1970s. The Jesuit Northeast Province last year identified Gould as a priest who has been credibly accused of molesting a child.

Former Cardinal Dougherty High priest accused

When Gary Astridge was 8 in 1963, the abuse by the Rev. Edward Townsend began, and it continued until 1967, when the victim was 11, a lawsuit against the Buffalo Diocese and the former Cardinal Dougherty High School alleges.

Because of the “culture of the Catholic Church,” Astridge felt pressure not to report the abuse, the lawsuit says.

Townsend belonged to a religious order based in California, the Eudists, which has not responded to The News' requests for comment about Townsend. Townsend died in 1998.

The Rev. Donald W. Becker named in suit

Michael Patrick Eames of South Buffalo is suing the Buffalo Diocese, SS. Peter and Paul Parish Community, St. John XXIII Parish, also known as the St. Bonaventure Parish, and retired priest Donald W. Becker, who now lives in Fort Myers, Fla.

Becker, who the diocese has said has been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, has previously told The Buffalo News that he never molested any children.

Eames alleges he was a victim of sexual harassment, abuse and violence by Becker around 1974, when Eames was around 15. Becker, the legal complaint says, forced Eames into sex after plying him with liquor at the priest’s cabin in Java Center.

The lawsuit indicates Eames notified the diocese about what happened in September 2007, and the organization has paid for his counseling and medication since 2012.

Lawsuit: Priest took boy to Beach Boys concert, abused him

A priest who remains suspended from active ministry due to what the diocese determined to be credible allegations took a teenager to a Beach Boys concert in Toronto in 1975 and abused him at a hotel, according to a lawsuit filed by an Elma man.

The Rev. Pascal D. Ipolito, who was suspended by the diocese in June, served at Annunciation Catholic Church in Elma at the time of the alleged abuse, according to the suit. Ipolito was accused of serving the teen large quantities of whiskey sours in a hotel room and abusing the teen.

The Rev. Louis Hendricks accused of abuse

The Rev. Louis Hendricks sexually abused a 10-year-old from 1968 to 1969 at St. Joseph Cathedral, alleges a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo and St. Joseph Cathedral.

Hendricks, who died in 1990, was identified by the diocese last year as one of the deceased priests with more than one allegation of sexual abuse against them.

Lawsuit names former Cardinal Dougherty High priest

Kevin Koscielniak alleges in a lawsuit he was molested by the Rev. James Burson at the former Cardinal Dougherty High School in Buffalo.

Koscielniak, who now lives in suburban Detroit, alleges the abuse occurred “in multiple locations” around school grounds and church facilities around 1979, when he was about 15 years old.

Burson is among the priests whom the Diocese of Buffalo identifies as being credibly accused of abuse. He was part of the Eudist Order and, now retired in California, has not returned telephone messages.

4 priests, 2 teachers named in suit 

An Erie County man now in his early 60s alleges he was raped and molested numerous times by four different priests, including two who are currently pastors at churches, beginning when he was 10 or 11 years old.

Court papers name Monsignor Peter Popadick, who is pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church and who was the secretary for former Buffalo Diocese Bishop Edward D. Head, as one of the priests who raped and molested a boy, beginning when he was 10 or 11.

The Rev. Joseph Frank Tuchols, the Rev. Paul Nogaro and a former wrestling coach only identified as “Father Mike” are also named as the alleged molesters.

Attorney Paul K. Barr alleges in court papers that the child was also molested by two lay teachers at St. Mary of Sorrows Church and School in Buffalo: Thomas Krachowiak and a teacher who was only partially identified.

The lawsuit says the plaintiff was molested at St. Mary of Sorrows and at the old Bishop Fallon High School in Buffalo.

Popadick, 74, who was Head’s secretary for more than 20 years until 1995, declined to comment through a church secretary.

Nogaro, 74, who is pastor at St. Stephen Church on Grand Island, denied the allegations, saying he has never molested anyone at any of the churches where he has worked.

“I don’t know who is accusing me, but I absolutely deny it because I have never done this to anyone in 48 years as a priest,” Nogaro told The Buffalo News. “Even though the truth is on my side, this destroys my life. … I don’t think it is fair that someone can make an accusation like this against you without even using their name.”

Barr said he has no evidence that the priests were acting in collaboration when they abused the victim.

“This kid had a difficult childhood, and things were going on in his home that made him very accessible to predators,” Barr said.

The Rev. Louis Hendricks named in lawsuit

A plaintiff accuses the Rev. Louis Hendricks of molesting him while the victim was a child involved in youth programs at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Steven Boyd does not make clear whether the victim is a man or a woman, but it says the abuse occurred from 1967 to 1970, when the victim was 6 to 10 years old.

Hendricks, who died in 1990, has been identified by the Diocese of Buffalo as a priest accused of child sexual abuse.

Woman accuses Lutheran minister of abuse

A Western New York woman alleges Bruce A. Connolly, a youth pastor and director of Christian education at First Trinity Lutheran Church in the Town of Tonawanda, raped and sexually abused her from about 1978 to 1981 starting when she was about 13, according to a lawsuit.

The woman said the abuse ended when she stopped attending the church in 1981. The lawsuit, against the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the church’s eastern district and Connolly, alleges he was employed at a church in Minnesota in 1989 when she informed the church about the abuse.

Connolly admitted his guilt and apologized to her for the abuse in a January 1990 letter, and his wife apologized in a letter in 1992, the victim alleges in the lawsuit. The woman received pastoral counseling and reimbursement from the church for additional counseling. Connolly continued to work for the church “and to be around children” as late as 2016, according to the suit. The suit was filed by attorney Will Lorenz of the HoganWillig law firm.

Sisters sue Buffalo Diocese, Jesuits 

Two sisters allege that a Jesuit priest at St. Ann’s Church in Buffalo abused them over a year in the 1970s when they were 7 and 8 years old. He always abused the two together, they allege, sometimes getting them drunk on communion wine; taking them into the back room at the church on Emslie Street; making them undress in front of him, then groping and fondling them in his lap.

The priest, whose identity is unknown, also would sometimes take the two girls to a nearby pool and watch while they changed their clothes in the back seat of his car, they allege, and then kiss and grope them in his car.

Last year, the women contacted the Buffalo Diocese, which then informed the Jesuits about the abuse, according to the lawsuit against the diocese, the Jesuits and St. Ann's Church. The sisters flew to New York City in December 2018 to meet with the Jesuits.

Five men sue Boy Scouts, Greater Niagara Frontier Council

In one of the Erie County lawsuits, five men sued the Boy Scouts of America and the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, alleging sexual abuse by four men who were scoutmasters or assistant scoutmasters in the '60s and '70s.

A Portland, Ore., man alleges Robert Eberhardt, a scoutmaster, sexually abused him in the late 1960s when he was 11 to 14 years old, according to the suit.

A Pittsford man alleges Robert Moll Jr., an assistant scoutmaster, sexually abused him on scout camping trips when he was 12 or 13, from about 1973 through 1976.

A man from North Tonawanda alleges Moll sexually abused him on camping trips when he was about 13 to 14.

A man from Hamlin alleges Norman Grimm, a scoutmaster, sexually abused him when he was around 11 to 12 years old from about 1974 to 1975. Grimm was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2008 for molesting three young boys in his Ryan Street home.

Robert O’Donnell, of the Town of Boston, alleges he was sexually abused by Ronald Williams, a scoutmaster, when he was about 13 or 14 around 1977 to 1978. Williams was convicted in 2006 on an indecent assault charge and is serving a 15-year prison sentence. O’Donnell told The News in May that he planned to file a lawsuit.

The Greater Niagara Frontier Council on Wednesday directed requests for comment to the national organization, the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts did not respond to the specific allegations in the lawsuit Wednesday.

Cheryl Bentley v. Buffalo Diocese

Cheryl Bentley was 8 when, she said, the late Monsignor James P. Hayes, who was the priest at All Saints Church in Riverside, used to pull her aside in the hallways of All Saints School and kiss her. At first, it was on the cheek. Later, it was on her mouth.

“I was a kid,” Bentley said last week. “I was innocent.”

That was just the beginning, said Bentley, now 49, and living in Wyoming County.

By the time she was in the fifth grade, Bentley said, the priest would make her come to his office in the back of the church, where he would force her to sit on his lap and molest her with his hands. She also said he forced her to perform oral sex.

While her parents didn’t attend church, she said, her mother often worked or volunteered at the church and school to offset the costs of tuition. Her mother would sell lottery tickets for the church, Bentley said, and hand the money to her to take to Hayes at his rectory. Bentley said he would molest her on those occasions.

The abuse went on until she graduated from the school in eighth grade.

Bentley filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo on Wednesday.

Hayes died in 1988. Last year, the Buffalo Diocese named him among a list of 42 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Bentley said her brother texted her a link to the article with Hayes’ name. “There’s your proof,” he wrote.

James Bottlinger v. Buffalo Diocese, St. Mary of the Assumption

The diocese offered James Bottlinger $650,000 – the largest settlement award in its recently concluded $17.5 million program compensating childhood victims of clergy sex abuse.

Bottlinger rejected the offer, calling it “insignificant” in the face of the abuse he endured and saying he preferred a full accounting of how and why the diocese allowed the Rev. Michael Freeman at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Lancaster to continue in ministry for so long.

On Wednesday, Steve Boyd, his attorney, held up his iPhone so that Bottlinger could watch his case being filed via FaceTime from Japan.


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