CVA lawsuit claims former Hoosick Falls mayor, priest abused boy

By Steve Hughes
August 26, 2019

Hoosick Falls, New York Mayor Richard A Severson talks on telephone while looking at papers. February 13, 1973
Photo by Bob Paley

Reverend Richard Severson stands outside Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Hudson Falls, NewYork. November 25, 1982

Times Union staff photo by Cindy Schultz -- Father Richard Severson poses near the alter in his home Tuesday, July 30, 2002, in Wilton, N.Y. Severson recently retired as chaplain at the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility.

A former Hoosick Falls police officer, Boy Scout leader and mayor who later became a priest is accused of molesting a boy for a period of about three years in the 1980s, according to a civil complaint.

The lawsuit, part of over 500 filed in New York since Aug. 14 under the Child Victims Act, alleges that the Rev. Richard A. Severson abused the boy at St. Mary’s Church in Hudson Falls from about 1982 until 1985, when the boy was between the ages of 10 and 13.

The suit names the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and St. Mary’s Church as defendants.

Jordan Merson, the attorney representing the man who filed the suit, could not be reached for comment on Monday. The alleged victim is identified in the lawsuit as John Doe.

Severson, who died in 2007 at age 71, had not previously been publicly accused of sexual abuse. His obituary noted his long history of community service, including working in the Hoosick Falls fire and EMS departments.

He was a Hoosick Falls police officer from 1954 until 1971, and served three terms as mayor from 1969 to 1975 before becoming ordained at the age of 45 in 1982. He also volunteered with local Boy Scout troops, receiving two awards for that work — including the Bronze Pelican, which is awarded by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

Severson’s first posting as a priest was as the associate pastor at St. Mary's in Hudson Falls, where the plaintiff’s mother worked. The newly filed complaint alleges that Severson used his position as a parish priest to manipulate the boy’s mother into allowing Severson to take him on overnight and weekend trips.

The abuse allegedly occurred in the church rectory, in Severson's car and on overnight trips to New Hampshire. The lawsuit also claims that Severson assaulted other children during his time at St. Mary’s, and that the diocese was aware of it at some point — though the complaint does not specify who was allegedly aware of the abuse.

The lawsuit claims that Severson manipulated the boy to make him feel like he had done something wrong, telling him he forgave him and instructing the boy to say a Hail Mary.

Severson was transferred in 1987 to the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, which at the time housed offenders with drug and alcohol addiction issues. He retired in 2002 and for a brief time operated St. Mary's Mission, a nonprofit in Gansevoort.

He is at least the 24th clergy member from the Albany diocese accused of sexual abuse under the Child Victim’s Act’s one-year “look-back” window, which temporarily removes the statute of limitations for such lawsuits.

The diocese released a statement on Aug. 14 as the first lawsuits were filed, saying its focus was on supporting survivors of sexual abuse.

"The truth is the only way through this, and the truth will set us free," Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said. "We admire the bravery of those who have come forward to share their stories of betrayal and pain to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse."


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