Filings detail clergy, school abuse in Niagara County

By Philip Gambini
Niagara Gazette
August 19, 2019

Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport

Lawsuits filed in Niagara County reveal the details of abuse suffered by scores of children over the past several decades.

The filings are among the hundreds of court documents that flooded state courts after the opening of the Child Victims Act “look-back window,” which allows survivors to submit civil lawsuits against their abusers that may have lapsed due to the legal statute of limitations.

The majority of the civil legal complaints accuse clergy or employees of the Diocese of Buffalo of sexual and physical abuse. The diocese has named the majority of the accused as having substantiated claims of sexual abuse lodged against them.

More lawsuits are expected to arrive over the next year.

Father Michael R. Freeman (City of Niagara Falls, 1980s)

Paul Barr, a local attorney, was among the first in Niagara County to publicly discuss a personal account of abuse by a member of the clergy. Barr said Freeman, who died in 2010, used his position and stature at Sacred Heart parish in the City of Niagara Falls to take advantage of him as a young man. 

According to the lawsuit, Freeman served beer to Barr, who was then a minor, while the two were alone in the parish rectory about 1980. The priest told the intoxicated Barr a false story about a medical condition he had encountered as a chaplain at the nearby airbase.

Freeman could examine Barr, but it required Barr to remove his pants and underwear to do so, the priest said, according to Barr. Freeman then backed Barr onto a couch and forcibly fondled Barr's genitals.  When he tried to leave, he found the door dead bolted. Freeman unlocked it and Barr left.

"Barr was scared and confused by Freeman's conduct," the lawsuit said. "He felt conflicted and betrayed because these unspeakable acts were being committed by a figure cloaked with spiritual authority and benevolence: the pastor whom Barr had come to trust and admire, and who had claimed that he was simply acting in Barr's best interest," the lawsuit said.

Barr refused a $45,000 settlement offer from the diocese Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), a fund established by the faith-based organization as a compensation mechanism for survivors, earlier this year. 

Freeman eventually left the Cataract City and was moved to a parish in Village of Lancaster in Erie County. James Bottlinger, an Erie County man who is filing a civil lawsuit under the act, was abused by Freeman from 1984 to 1989, when he was 14 to 19 years old.

Bottlinger went public with allegations against Freeman earlier this summer, including that on at least one occasion, Freeman brandished a .38-caliber pistol while abusing him. On another occasion, the victim was abused by and with a male prostitute solicited by Freeman. 

Freeman was replaced at Sacred Heart by Father Bernard M. Mach. Mach, who is also deceased, and has been accused of sexually abusing a child.

Freeman and Mach were named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them.

Father Ronald T. Silverio (City of Niagara Falls, 1973-1982)

Silverio, then a priest at Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Church on Pine Avenue, is accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a child for nearly a decade, starting when the child was nine years old and lasting until the child was 18 from 1973 to 1982.

The gender of the child was not identified in the lawsuit, submitted by an anonymous plaintiff identified as "AB 91 DOE."

Silverio was previously accused of molesting three brothers from South Buffalo in an account published by one of the survivors, P.A. Kane, in the Buffalo-based publication The Public. 

"Burned" into Kane's mind is the memory of Silverio "coming into the darkened room where I was pretending to be asleep, sidling up next to me on the sofa bed, and breathing on me," he wrote in July 2018.

"Hot, excited breath that filled me with a paralyzing terror as he pulled down my sweatpants and scrutinized my 12-year-old body by the thin light of a flashlight before gently touching and stroking my genitals," Kane wrote.

"In that bed, in those interminable minutes under the heat of his wheezing breath and that little flashlight, so alone and afraid, part of me died. Murdered by a priest who had infiltrated our family and played out his repressed sexual desires on innocent boys who thought he was their friend," he continued.

Silverio was named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them.

Father Joseph Rappl (Village of Lewiston, 1978) 

Rappl is accused in a lawsuit filed by an anonymous claimant identified as "AB 83 DOE." The survivor was allegedly abused between the ages of 12 and 14 by Rappl while he was a priest at St. Peter Roman Catholic Church on Center Street from 1978 to 1980, according to the legal complaint. The gender of the child was not identified. 

It is not the first time Rappl has been accused. Jeffrey M. Shaw publicly discussed his accusation against Rappl with the Buffalo News in January after his claim was rejected from the IRCP. Shaw said he was 11 years old when Rappl abused him in 1981, he told the News.

Rappl was named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them.

Father Florian A. Jasinski (City of Niagara Falls, 1982-83)

Jasinski was a priest at St. Stanislaus Kostka when he abused a child between the ages of eight and nine in 1982 and 1983. The lawsuit was submitted by an anonymous plaintiff identified as "AB 55 DOE." The gender of the child was not identified. 

Jasinski was named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them. Jasinski died in 1983, according to the diocese.

Sister Claudia (City of North Tonawanda, 1956-58)

Sisters of St. Joseph nun Sister Claudia of Ascension Roman Catholic Church was accused of molesting a child from 1956 to 1958, beginning when the child was age six and lasting until they were age seven. The gender of the child was not identified in the lawsuit, which was submitted by an anonymous plaintiff identified as "AB 128 DOE." 

The nun was part of a religious order not under the direct supervision of the diocese. However, the bishop would be tasked with approving the transfer of any order cleric to work within the diocese jurisdiction and could bestow the individual’s right to perform “priestly faculties." Otherwise, the clergy person would operate under the watch of the particular religious order.

Father Leo F. Reddy (City of Lockport, 1960)

Reddy is accused of abusing a child who was aged 12 to 13 years in a lawsuit filed by an unnamed plaintiff identified only as "AB 84 DOE." The gender of the child is not identified in the suit.

Reddy was not named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them. Reddy is reportedly deceased.

Father Fred D. Ingalls, (City of Niagara Falls, 1982-83)

Ingalls is accused of abusing a child between the ages of 10 to 11 years old in 1982 and 1983. He was at the time employed by St. Joseph School. The gender of the child was not specified in the lawsuit filed by an unnamed plaintiff, "AB 130 DOE." 

Ingalls was named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them.

Father Dennis Fronczyk, a/k/a Dennis Franczak, a/k/a Dennis Fronczak (City of Lockport, 1986-88)

Fronczak is accused of abusing a 10 to 11 year old child between 1986 and 1988 while employed by St. John the Baptist Parish in Lockport. The gender of the child is not identified in the lawsuit.

Fronczak's name appears with multiple different spellings in diocese materials and lawsuits, but an attorney with the firm filing the lawsuit, Anderson and Associates, said all the spellings refer to the same man. 

Fronczak was named in 2018 by the diocese as among clergy with substantiated claims of child abuse made against them. He was to remain on administrative leave until investigatory findings are "reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, who will make the final determination," according to a prior diocese statement.

Lutheran Pastor Bruce A. Connolly (Town of Tonawanda, 1978-1981)

At age 24, Nora Kovach was a year late when she was prepared to go public with allegations of rape and molestation against a youth pastor from First Trinity Lutheran Church in the Town of Tonawanda under the former statute of limitations.

But with the passage of the Child Victims Act, Kovach, 54, was able to file a lawsuit against Connolly, who she says repeatedly sexually assaulted her from 1978 to 1981, while she was 13 to 16 years old.

Kovach filed a suit against Connolly and the Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod, which retained Connolly as a youth pastor for three years after she brought her abuse complaints to youth leadership in 1989.

Connolly admitted the abuse Jan. 23, 1990. The church retained Connolly, who was then a director of Christian Education at a Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota, for another two years.

Kovach said the church leadership also pressured her to stay silent.

“I was told not to tell my family, not to shame my family,” Kovach said. “I was told that I was persecuting the church, that my soul was going to hell because I didn’t forgive (Connolly).”

“The church hierarchy did as much damage as he did,” she added.

St. Dominic Savio Middle School teacher Christian Butler (City of Niagara Falls, 2002-04)

Vanessa DeRosa-Wrest, 29, is suing the Diocese of Buffalo, the Niagara Falls Catholic School Network and the now-closed Saint Dominic Savio Middle School over abuse and harassment she says she suffered from Butler, a former computer teacher, when she was 13.

DeRosa-Wrest says Butler followed her after athletics practice, exposed her to pornography in his classroom and made several lewd remarks, including asking her to strip naked and have sex with him over the course of two years. She also alleged Butler once chased her down a hallway and shoved her around, demanding to know if she was wearing a tape recorder. 

Butler was placed on administrative leave in June 2004 after authorities learned he had subjected DeRosa-Wrest and two other girls to abuse. DeRosa-Wrest reported him to a child abuse hotline, according to her attorney.

Investigators eventually uncovered child pornography on Butler's computer. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to endangering the welfare of a child and possessing a sexual performance of a child and was sentenced to probation. In 2007, he admitted to violating the rules of his probation and was re-sentenced to 16 months to four years in state prison.  He was paroled in December 2009 and at some point moved to Broward County, Fla., where he was convicted in 2013 of failing to register as a sex offender.

In January 2017, Butler was caught in an FBI child pornography sting. An undercover FBI agent posted an ad on a public messaging board for nude photos of a nine-year-old girl. Butler responded to the offer and sent the agent a code for a gift card in return for sexual photos of the girl.

He pleaded guilty to attempted production of child pornography and was sentenced in August 2017 by a federal judge to 25 years in federal prison.

The state's former statue of limitations prevented DeRosa-Wrest from joining a 2014 suit against the diocese, which resulted in settlements for two women who say Butler abused them as girls.

Paul H. Regdos (City of North Tonawanda, 1983-1991)

Under a pseudonym, "HW 3 ROE," a woman is suing Regdos, her biological father, for raping her repeatedly over nine years. The abuse began when she was 5 years old and largely took place in the Regdos home.

According to the suit, the abuse ended when Regdos was arrested by the North Tonawanda City Police Department in 1991. He was convicted later that year of attempted sodomy in the first degree and attempted rape in the first degree, though the lawsuit does not detail what triggered his arrest.

Lockport Union-Sun and Journal Reporter Tim Fenster contributed to this report. 

Do you need help?

The National Sexual Assault Hotline through the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is available 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673

The YWCA of Niagara’s rape crisis program hotline is 433-6716.

The Child Advocacy Center of Niagara can be reached at 285-0045.



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