Firms File 20 Child Victims Act Lawsuits against Diocese
By Cara Chapman
July 2, 2020
PLATTSBURGH — Twenty new lawsuits were filed against the Diocese of Ogdensburg under the New York Child Victims Act Tuesday.
The suits collectively named 14 priests.
"The Diocese of Ogdensburg takes all allegations of abuse seriously, and these new allegations will be investigated," Diocese of Ogdensburg Communications Director Darcy Fargo said.
"We hope and pray that victims of abuse are able to find healing and reconciliation, and that justice is served in these cases."
With these new complaints, attorneys from Minnesota-based law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates and Guilderland-based firm Lafave, Wein and Frament have now brought 34 lawsuits against the diocese under the New York Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to file complaints.
“The courageous survivors who brought suit today are reclaiming the power that was stolen from them as children,” Anderson said in a statement.
“We are honored to stand with these survivors in their excavation of truths that have been hidden for decades.”
A press release from Anderson's firm said the cases had been "stuck in limbo" due to COVID-19 court closures.
Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the Child Victims Act (CVA) by five months to Jan. 14, 2021, via executive order, and the legislature has voted to extend its window by one year, the law firms recommended that survivors "take action before the initial deadline of August 13, 2020 to take full advantage of their rights under the CVA."
“By bringing suit and sharing their truths, these survivors are making the diocese a safer place for children,” attorney Taylor Stippel said in a statement.
EIGHT NEWLY NAMED
Among the complaints were eight clerics who the law firms said were publicly identified for the first time. Those include, according to the press release:
• Msgr. F. Gordon Coseo, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1971 to 1976 at Notre Dame Church in Malone
• The Rev. Joseph W. Elliott, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1985 to 1988 at the former St. Michael's Church in Parishville and St. Mary's Church in Potsdam
• The Rev. George A. Fontaine, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1971 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Schroon Lake
• The Rev. Frank M. Kearns, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1965 to 1967 at St. Joseph's Church in Dannemora
• Msgr. Joseph F. Luker, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1971 or 1972 at St. Peter's Church in Lowville
• Msgr. John F. Pendergast, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1987 to 1989 at St. Mary's Church in Massena
• The Rev. Donald E. Seguin, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1961 at Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Crown Point
• Msgr. Floyd J. Brown, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1987 to 1991 while he was employed at the former St. Lawrence Parish in Massena
None of these priests were part of a list released by the diocese in November 2018 of priests "removed from ministry and those who were deceased or left ministry prior to a finding of reasonable grounds by the Diocesan Review Board and/or the Diocesan Bishop due to sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult."
Fargo said claims had not been made to the diocese previously regarding these eight priests.
SIX ON LIST
The lawsuits named three priests already included in other complaints filed by the law firms. They and three others were also on the diocese's list.
Four new complaints allege abuse by Rev. Emile G. LaLonde in the 1960s and 1970s while assigned to St. John the Baptist Church in Madrid and St. Augustine Church in North Bangor.
Another two say the Rev. Liam O'Doherty sexually abused minors in the 1960s — shortly after he was ordained — and around 1974 at St. Mary's Church in Canton and St. Ann's Church in St. Regis Falls, respectively.
The release said a Franklin County grand jury indicted him in 1979 for sexually abusing minors at St. Ann's.
According to four complaints, the Rev. John J. Fallon sexually abused four minors in the 1970s and 1980s while employed by St. John the Baptist Church in Plattsburgh, Church of the Holy Angels in Altona and, per one complaint, the former St. Matthew Parish in Black Brook.
One complaint said that, from around 1980 to 1985, the plaintiff, who was 10 to 14 years old and a student at St. John's Academy in Plattsburgh, was abused by both Fallon and the Rev. Joseph A. Conti.
Conti was additionally employed by Our Lady of Victory Church at the time.
Fallon was criminally convicted in 1986 in connection with receiving child pornography in the mail, the press release said.
The complaints also named the Rev. Edward Franklin, accused of sexually abusing a minor from about 1963 to 1964 at Holy Family Parish in Watertown, and Roland V. Menard, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1979 to 1981 at St. Mary's in Fort Covington.
Fargo said only two of the 14 accused in the new suits were still alive: Elliott and Menard.
"Father Joseph Elliot is a retired priest of the diocese who still resides in the diocese, but is not currently active in ministry," she told the Press-Republican Wednesday.
"This is the first allegation made against Father Elliot, and the diocese learned of the allegation through yesterday’s filing. That claim will be investigated to determine Father Elliot’s status moving forward."
Fargo said Menard has not been in ministry for more than 30 years.
Fargo said a credible allegation of abuse in the diocese has not occurred within the last 20 years.
She noted that the diocese has implemented Safe Environment protocols consistent with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
"Those protocols include background checks, abuse prevention training as well as regulations on how staff interact with youth," Fargo said.
"We pray that the fact that there have been no credible allegations of abuse occurring in the last 20 years is a sign that we are on the right course.
"With the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People both nationwide and locally, and the implementation of the diocesan Safe Environment and Child and Youth Protection policies, we feel great strides have been made to protect children."
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