Counselor accused of 1970s abuse
August 29, 2019
A lawsuit says a counselor — who the suit says still works with DePaul — abused a young man sexually and physically about 50 years ago
ROCHESTER — The New York State Child Victims Act has brought three new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse in Rochester and Dansville decades ago.
Each lawsuit names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester as a defendant. But one also accuses an award-winning counselor, not a priest, who has never been named publicly before.
The allegations in the lawsuit — if true — would put someone in prison for a long time. So the Daily Messenger’s news partner News 10NBC questioned the lawyer about publicly accusing a private citizen of horrible things — one who has never been accused before.
The lawsuit says the young man named J.O. was sexually abused and beaten with a baseball bat almost 50 years ago.
“He’s attempted suicide and it’s just been a traumatic experience,” said Dan Ellis, J.O.’s attorney.
Ellis read a statement on J.O.’s behalf: “And what he says is ’the very people who were entrusted to care for and protect vulnerable children betrayed that trust and failed in their mission. They must be brought to account and justice must be served.”
The allegations are against a priest, Father Austin Hanna, who died in 2006 at the age of 97, and a counselor at the former Wellington Group Home in Rochester. The home was run by DePaul, which is named as a defendant.
The lawsuit says the counselor still works at DePaul in a senior role and now he is now publicly named as doing something criminal in the 1970s.
Asked whether that is fair, Ellis said, “Right, well, what I say is not fair is for victims to have to suffer with this for decades. ... So we’ll still have to prove our case in court and just because he’s accused obviously does not mean these acts occurred but as I’ve mentioned, these cases have been thoroughly vetted.” He said the investigation has gone on for several months, and that there are witnesses.
There was no answer, and no voicemail, when News 10NBC called the DePaul employee.
DePaul did issue this statement: “DePaul first learned of the lawsuit when contacted by a reporter earlier today and we have no records of any complaints being made in 1981 when this was alleged to have occurred. While we do not comment on pending litigation, the safety and well-being of everyone in our care is our first priority and we will thoroughly investigate these allegations.”
When asked what the status of the employee is, DePaul said it does not comment on former or current employees.
There are dozens of lawsuits filed in Monroe County under the provision of the Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window for alleged victims to sue their abusers and the places they worked no matter how long ago it happened.
There are a total of 37 lawsuits that name the Diocese of Rochester as a defendant. In 10 of the lawsuits, the complaints do not list specific priests but describe them as “Does 1-5 unknown to the plaintiff.”
Nineteen priests are named as defendants or named in the complaint. One layman is named. One seminarian is named.
Of those 19 priests, Fr. Robert O’Neill is named 12 times. O’Neill is listed on the DOR’s “Disposition” webpage. The DOR says O’Neill died before the complaints against him were resolved.
Of the 19 priests named, 12 are new. They do not appear on the diocese’s Disposition list. Of those 12, six are deceased.