$8M Suit over '60s Abuse Charges Dismissed
Troy Judge's Decision to Throw out Case against Albany Diocese Upholds State's Statute of Limitations
By Andrew Tilghman
Times Union (Albany, NY)
August 8, 2003
A Rensselaer County judge has thrown out an $8 million lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany that alleged a priest who is now dead molested an altar boy in the 1960s.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Christian Hummel said the lawsuit was barred by the state's three-year statute of limitations and noted that the priest was not assigned to the accuser's parish at the time of the alleged abuse, according to his six-page decision dated Aug. 6.
The lawsuit was filed in February by a 52-year-old Capital Region man referred to in court papers only as John Doe. He accused the late Rev. John Mea of raping him repeatedly in the rectory of St. Joseph's Church in Fort Edward. Mea died in 1984.
The Diocese of Albany welcomed the judge's decision to dismiss the lawsuit against it, Bishop Howard Hubbard and St. Joseph's Church.
"This claim was the first and only one concerning Father Mea and it came nearly 20 years after his passing. All that we know suggests that Father Mea served as a highly regarded priest in ministry with the Albany Diocese. We hope that this court decision will in some small way allow Father Mea to now rest in peace," a diocesan spokesman, Ken Goldfarb, said in a statement Thursday.
The judge rejected the legal argument from the man's attorney, Ronald Benjamin of Binghamton, that the church had a duty to notify the man or his parents about an abusive priest, Hummel said.
That would amount to a excessive entanglement between church and state, Hummel said.
"Claims for breach of fiduciary duty necessitate a review by the courts of the nature and relationship of a priest to his parishioner, or a bishop to his community of faith, and as such they are not recognized," the judge wrote.
For three years, the priest allegedly forced the young teenager to engage in oral and anal sex, telling him "that he would go to hell if he were to tell anyone about the sexual misconduct," according to the lawsuit.
The judge also noted that the lawsuit said the abuse occurred between 1961 and 1964, but church records show Mea was an assistant pastor in North Creek at that time and did not transfer to St. Joseph's until 1967.
"Based on the unrefuted documentary evidence that Father Mea was not associated with St. Joseph's Church during the time frame of the alleged abuse, this forms an independent basis for the dismissal of the complaint against St. Joseph's," according to the judge's opinion.
Benjamin, who has handled more than 20 cases against the Catholic dioceses in Syracuse and Rochester, said the discrepancy in the years the abuse took place was due to his client's psychological problems and his reluctance to admit he was abused at a later age. "That would make him older than he could live with himself," Benjamin said.
He said he intends to appeal the ruling. 'I can not believe the New York courts are going to turn a deaf ear to these cases. It just depends on how high we have to go."
Most of his suits against the dioceses in Syracuse and Rochester are still pending.
The lawsuit also named the Holy See, but Hummel refused to consider that aspect of the case because the State of Vatican City is a sovereign country and not necessarily under the jurisdiction of the United States' legal system.
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