Victimized and violated: A litany of accusations in new child sex-abuse suits

By Steve Orr
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
August 15, 2019

Lawyers alleged explicitly in at least three of the lawsuits that officials in the Rochester diocese were aware of abusive priests' tendencies but allowed them to remain in their positions.

Story Highlights
• 10 Priests were identified that had not previously accused of having sexually abused children
• The second and third nun to be publicly accused of sexual abuse were named
• Lawsuits named four local Catholic school teachers are abusers
• Most of the lawsuits that targeted the diocese Wednesday were filed using pseudonyms for the alleged victims
• A boy forced to perform sex acts in a Webster school locker room. A girl violated in the rectory of a northwest Rochester church.

Two children, one barely old enough to go to school, victimized by nuns. Teens abused at Aquinas, McQuaid and Cardinal Mooney high schools

More than a dozen people who say their childhoods were marred by crude encounters with the most notorious priest in recent Rochester history.

That’s a partial toll from the first day of a yearlong period in which people who were victimized by pedophiles can seek recompense in the state's courts.

In all, at least 38 lawsuits were filed in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region and at least 410 statewidethrough 5 p.m. Wednesday under the auspices of New York’s Child Victims Act. The law carved out a one-year window to revive old legal claims that were barred by the state's restrictive statute of limitations.

As widely expected, it was a sorry day for the Catholic diocese of Rochester.

Thirty-six of the 38 lawsuits filed in the Rochester region accused the diocese and various parishes of being complicit in the abusive acts of Catholic priests, nuns, brothers and deacons.

But worse than the volume of claims was the nature of the accusations in several of them.

Lawyers alleged explicitly in at least three of the lawsuits that officials in the Rochester diocese were aware of abusive priests' tendencies but allowed them to remain in positions where they had access, and could abuse, more children.

“I cannot imagine an experience
more emotionally, psychologically
or spiritually damaging for a Catholic
child, boy or girl, to have to endure.”

Peter Saracino, Phelps

That is the type of damning evidence that lawyers are seeking in all of the cases filed Wednesday, and in those that are still to come.

Such evidence, if borne out, could vindicate survivors of priest sexual abuse who have insisted that the church, from the Vatican to local dioceses, engaged in a decades-long cover-up of sexual misconduct.

It's the stuff not just of vindication but of large settlements or hefty awards by juries.

One civil complaint quotes a letter to an abuse survivor in which his tormentor, ex-priest John Gormley, said that diocesan officials were well aware of his "disorder" at the time he molested his youthful victim in the 1960s.

The lawsuit noted that Gormley first confessed to compulsion to violate boys when he was in seminary in Rochester, and that diocese officials repeatedly gave him new assignments anyway.

Another suit accused the Rev. Norbert Nolan of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform sex acts in St. Mary Church in Rushville, Ontario County, in the early 1970’s.

The legal papers say the child’s mother complained to Bishop Joseph Hogan about the priest but nothing was done. He remained in the ministry until 1991, when Hogan’s successor, Bishop Matthew Clark, summarily removed Nolan from St. Patrick’s in Mount Morris in 1991 for reasons the diocese never spelled out.

Rev. Robert O'Neill, 1975 (Photo: File photo)

And a third complaint details a litany of parishioner complaints and warnings that had been given to the diocese about the Rev. Robert F. O'Neill, whose misconduct is sweeping in scope.

O'Neill, who died in 2005, is accused of abusing 13 boys and young men in 11 civil actions filed Wednesday. His illicit conduct spanned four decades and assignments to churches in Brockport, Charlotte, the South Wedge, Greece, northeast Rochester and Chili.

“Father O’Neill was a notorious sexual predator who violated many boys," the complaint states. "The Diocese of Rochester received parishioner complaints about Father O’Neill for years.”

But diocesan officials — most particularly Bishop Matthew Clark, who met personally with males who said they'd been victimized by O'Neill — failed to take action to protect young people from him.

Clark permitted O'Neill to retire in 2002, the day before his name was finally made public as a suspected sexual abuser of children.

Webster coach accused

Lawyers said the filings Wednesday — the first one in Monroe County was submitted electronically at 12:14 a.m. — were just the first salvo in a barrage that will last for months.

That very first filing was the only one in Monroe County, and one of the few statewide, that did not involve a Catholic priest or other minister.

Instead, it focused on a longtime teacher and soccer coach at Webster Central School District, Ralph Wager.

A Florida man who said he was a student at Klem Road elementary and Spry middle schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s accused Wager of sexually and physically abusing him. The man said Wager abused him and forced him to perform sex acts in the school showers and locker room, and at Wager's home.

Wager, who left Webster years ago to coach college soccer in North Carolina, pleaded guilty in 2015 to sex crimes involving two boys in that state and wassentenced to life in prison.

Wednesday's lawsuit appears to be the first public accusation of sexual misconduct from Wager's time in Webster.

Nuns and priests

Brian DeLafranier outlines the abuse allegations that are in the lawsuit that was filed under the Child Victims Act in New York on Aug. 14.Max Schulte, Staff photographer

As the lawsuits poured in, the Diocese of Rochester releaseda prepared statementWednesday morning from Bishop Salvatore Matano.

“I renew my most sincere apology to anyone who was harmed by a cleric or Church personnel who so terribly violated their position of trust and scarred the very lives of those whom they were called to serve," he said. "I pray that the victims and all affected by these egregious acts will find healing and hope. Know that Our Lord never abandons us and is always present, especially in times of grave difficulty and suffering. Our diocesan efforts of many years to heal and to restore victims, and to create a safe environment, will continue. We will remain vigilant.”

Most of the lawsuits that targeted the diocese Wednesday were filed using pseudonyms for the alleged victims, taking advantage of court rules that permit anonymous filings in certain cases.

As expected, the alleged abuse in most cases took place many years ago. Two accusations dated to the 1950s.

Among the cases on Wednesday's docket:

The second and third nun to be publicly accused of sexual abuse were named:

• Sister Madeline Cox, a Sister of St. Joseph, was accused of sexually abusing a child between 1978 and 1982 at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brockport. The child was 6 years old when the alleged abuse began.
• Sister Bernadine, a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Elmira, was accused of sexually abusing a teenager in the 1960s.

Lawsuits named four local Catholic school teachers are abusers:

• The Rev. John T. Cherry, a teacher at Aquinas Institute, was accused of “unpermitted sexual contact” in about 1968 with the plaintiff, then 17 years old.
• Marcel Sinasac, a teacher at Aquinas, was accused of “unpermitted sexual contact” about 1983 with the plaintiff, then 15 years old.
• The Rev. William O’Malley, a longtime teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School, was accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old student in the mid-1980s.
• Brother John Walsh, a teacher and administrator at the now-closed Cardinal Mooney High School in Greece, was accused of sexually abusing a male student in the mid-1980s, when the student was 14 to 16 years old. The defendant in this lawsuit appears to be the same man who was charged withabducting two boys ages 11 and 12 from a downtown Rochester street, and offering them money for sex. The boys were released unharmed and Walsh was eventually allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve six months in jail.

Priests that had been the subject of accusations previously who were sued included theRev. Francis Vogt(five claims), the Rev. Joseph Larrabee(three claims) and the Revs.Vincent Panepinto,Dennis Sewar, Albert Cason andJohn J. Steger(one apiece).

Priests that had not been identified previously as having sexually abused children:

• The Rev. Gerald Dunn of St. Theodore in Gates
• The Rev. Richard Orlando at St. Helen in Gates
• The Rev. Jacob Rauber at St. Leo in Hilton
• The Rev. Joseph Beatini at St Francis Xavier in Rochester
• The Rev. John Miller in Henrietta
• The Rev. Robert Meng at Holy Rosary in Rochester
• The Rev. Paul Cloonan at St. Mary of the Assumption in Scottsville
• The Rev. Vincent Paul Collins at St. John of Rochester in Fairport
• The Rev. Leo Francis Dunn at St. Joseph in Rochester
• The Rev. Anthony Giudice at St. Patrick in Seneca Falls

A plaintiff's view

Plaintiff Peter Saracino (Photo: Brian Sharp/staff photographer)

The man who filed suit against the Rev. Anthony Giudice, Peter Saracino of Phelps, Ontario County, spoke plaintively about the abuse he suffered.

“Catholic children have been raised to view a priest as 'another Christ,'" he said. "Being sexually violated by a priest is tantamount to being raped by God himself. I cannot imagine an experience more emotionally, psychologically or spiritually damaging for a Catholic child, boy or girl, to have to endure. In their agony, they are left without even a God that they can turn to.”

Saracino still counts himself a Christian, but not a Catholic. He spoke at a news conference Wednesday with his lawyers and another survivor at a downtown hotel.

His alleged abuse dates from the 1960s, when he was between 9 and 11 years old. He was an altar boy at St. Patrick Church in Seneca Falls. He encounter Giudice there and at the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, now the Geneva on the Lake resort on Seneca Lake.

Saracino recounted a phone call in the 1990s in which he confronted his alleged abuser and told Giudice he was "a murderer of souls."

Giudice dropped the phone, Saracino said, then hung up.

Those who spoke at the news conference Wednesday called on the church to be transparent, not to declare bankruptcy; a maneuver they said would shield the church from the discovery process in which they would need to turn over internal records detailing the diocese's handling of abuse allegations.

They also called for other survivors to come forward and for the faithful to challenge church leaders.

“I would like to close with a legal expression I believe quite appropriate to the occasion," Saracino said: "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”

Includes reporting by staff writer Brian Sharp.

Do you need support?

RESTORE Sexual Assault Services

(585) 546-2777 (Monroe County)

(800) 527-1757 (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties)

(800) 656-4673 (National RAINN hotline)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8255)

The Diocese of Rochester urged victims of sexual abuse to report to the civil authorities. Those who feel they've been victimized by a person associated with the Catholic Church can bring their complaint to the diocese and seek help and guidance by contacting victim assistance coordinator Deborah Housel. Call (585) 328-3228, ext. 1555, or (800) 388-7177, ext. 1555, or email




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