Priest Abuse Story Recanted Oneida County DA Finds an Allegation against Monsignor False after Investigation

By Renee K. Gadoua
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
June 7, 2002

The Oneida County district attorney may file charges against a person who fabricated a story alleging a retired Utica priest sexually abused him.

Michael Arcuri, Oneida County district attorney, said someone came forward about two weeks ago and reported Monsignor H. Charles Sewall had recently sexually abused him. The district attorney's office investigated, found inconsistencies in the story and the person recanted, he said.

Three $20 million lawsuits filed Tuesday accuse Sewall of sexually abusing three teen-age boys in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuits accepted an undisclosed amount of money from the diocese in 1988 to settle a lawsuit against Sewall. The lawyer for the three men said the false accusation does not involve any of his clients.

Arcuri would not name the person who falsely accused Sewall or what the person said Sewall did to him. He would not say what charges are being considered.

He would not discuss the person's motive.

"There were some circumstances in this individual's life that prompted it," he said.

Arcuri said this is the first false accusation against a priest to be reported to Oneida County legal authorities.

Diocesan officials said this is the only case in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse in which a report to legal authorities proved false. Diocesan officials said they have determined some allegations reported to them were false.

Published accounts report clergy denying accusations, but local church officials are unaware how many other false allegations have been made against priests since the current scandal began in Boston.

In 1994, a man recanted his accusation that former Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin sexually abused him in the 1970s. Earlier this year, a woman admitted she had made up a story accusing Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney of sexually abusing her.

"It is terribly unfortunate that for whatever reason an individu al felt compelled to make a false allegation against Monsignor Sewall," the Syracuse Diocese said in a statement. "We are very pleased with the thorough and professional work of Mr. Arcuri and the Oneida County District Attorney's Office."

Arcuri said the case his office found to be false shows legal authorities should be trusted to investigate allegations against clergy.

"We're not going to conduct a witch hunt," he said. "Anything that comes forward, we investigate. We are trying very hard not to treat this any different from any other sexual abuse allegation. We certainly hope that this will not put any detrimental effect on people wanting to come forward."

Arcuri said he supports a change in state law that would require church officials to report all allegations of sexual abuse. He also supports the draft policy the U.S. bishops are to consider next week as they discuss a universal policy on handling allegations of sex abuse by priests.

"This shows the system works," he said. "I hope they will take this into consideration."

Arcuri said having legal authorities investigate all sexual abuse allegations would remove the potential in subjective treatment and would eliminate the perception of cover-ups.

"There's always that appearance of impropriety when you investigate yourself," he said.


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