Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse in Lawsuits

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 5, 2002

A Catholic high school principal is accused of sexually abusing three teen-age boys over several years while diocese officials did nothing to stop his "predatory and exploitive actions," according to three $20 million lawsuits.

The lawsuits contend that Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese officials knew of the abuse by Monsignor H. Charles Sewall in 1988 when they entered into a secret settlement with one of the victims.

The diocese "took no steps to investigate the misconduct or prevent further sexual abuse by Msgr. Sewall. ... In fact, throughout the time he was abusing boys, Msgr. Sewall was being promoted within the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy," the lawsuits said.

The sexual abuse has haunted the men all their lives and will continue to do so, said attorney Frank Policelli, who filed the lawsuits Tuesday in state Supreme Court. He said criminal statute of limitations have long expired, leaving the victims with one recourse.

"The only thing you can do is ask for money," Policelli told The Observer-Dispatch of Utica. "You can't get your life back, you can't put the guy in jail, so the only way you can compensate in some civil cases is money."

Only one of the plaintiffs was identified in court papers. The other two victims are named as "John Doe" and "John Doe #2." Each lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages for "humiliation, pain, suffering, emotional distress and loss of reputation," along with punitive damages of $10 million.

Diocese spokeswoman Danielle Cummings said Wednesday that the diocese would not have any response until its attorney had reviewed the lawsuits. She said the diocese was still waiting to receive a copy of the lawsuits.

Sewall, 67, was a former vicar of the diocese eastern region and a much-beloved local clergyman who headed Utica's largest parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, for 12 years. He admitted in a statement last month to sexual misconduct with an unidentified individual in the late 1970s. Sewall said he received counseling and the victim was given financial assistance as part of the settlement.

Lincoln Franchell of Remsen, now 40, has said previously he was the individual abused by Sewall and involved in the settlement.

In his lawsuit, Franchell claimed he was 13 when the sexual abuse began and continued for four or five years in a trailer on high school grounds.

The diocese was contacted in 1988 about the sexual abuse and a financial settlement was reached with Franchell, with the condition that Sewall "never be placed in a position where he would be working with minor children," according to the lawsuit.

However, Sewall continued his previous duties, including teaching at Notre Dame High School, "long after the diocese was informed of his propensity to abuse minor children," court papers state. The confidentiality release signed by Franchell with the diocese is void because it was obtained under false pretenses, the lawsuit said.

"John Doe," now of Rome, was sexually abused by Sewall between 1978 and 1980 while a Notre Dame High School student in a trailer and in various locations in the high school, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit accuses Sewall of using cash payments and promises of free high school tuition to buy the youths' silence.

The alleged abuse to the third plaintiff occurred in 1976 in Sewall's trailer when he was 13 years old, the lawsuit said. The youth was then given $40 by Sewall, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Moynihan confirmed Wednesday that the Syracuse diocese had removed the Rev. James Hayes as the chaplain at Community General Hospital in Syracuse after an alleged victim came forward with an old allegation. Hayes previously served as a school counselor and as a principal at the now-closed Bishop Cunningham High School in Oswego. He was counseled for sexual abuse in the early 1990s, according to the diocese.


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