Man who filed lawsuit vs. coach also alleges abuse by ex-priest at St. Clare's
By Kyle Lawson
Staten Island Advance
December 17, 2019
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- An alleged victim of sexual abuse on Staten Island claims he was first victimized by a Great Kills priest, then by a baseball coach who was a Great Kills resident, according to a lawsuit filed last week in state Supreme Court, St. George. The suit names former priest Ralph LaBelle, who served at St. Clare’s R.C. Church in Great Kills from 1979 to 1985, and former American Legion and Great Kills Babe Ruth League coach Tony Sagona.
The plaintiff, Christopher Hansen, says he was “groomed” and then abused by LaBelle between the ages of 14 and 16, when his family attended Mass at St. Clare’s. At first, LaBelle would invite Hansen to his private quarters, serve him beer and “engage in discussions of a sexual nature,” the suit claims. Discussions allegedly devolved into LaBelle “inappropriately touching” the plaintiff’s “crotch area” and kissing his face.
The relationships warped Hansen into thinking it was normal behavior for an older, authority figure, he says. During that time, the suit alleges, employees, agents, and volunteers of the Archdiocese and St. Clare’s witnessed LaBelle spending inordinate amounts of time with Hansen.
The Archdiocese of New York and St. Clare’s Church are named as defendants in the lawsuit.It was also during that time Hansen first met Sagona, who approached him about playing on an all-star baseball team, and began his own “grooming” process, the complaint alleges. Sagona is accused of offering Hansen $200 per game that he pitched for the American Legion team, during a time Hansen’s family was tight on money. Sagona also allegedly discouraged parents from showing up at games.
Responding to the lawsuits levied against Sagona, his attorney said last week that his client denies all allegations.
“There was no sexual abuse of any kind and it is simply unfair to come up with accusations 30 to 45 years after the fact, when it is harder to defend yourself," said defense attorney Aidan O’Connor. “These allegations can ruin someone’s reputation -- like Tony Sagona -- who has devoted his life to helping young men succeed in sports, in college and even going to the pros.”
LaBelle’s name was included on a list of clergy credibly accused of abuse, unveiled in April by the Archdiocese of New York. He was laicized in 2005, after several victims came forward.
During his time at St. Clare’s in Great Kills, he reportedly served with Rev. Eugene Hicks, whose name appears on a portion of the Archdiocese list for priests who had died when allegations were made against them and thus were unable to defend themselves, but whose cases resulted in compensation.
Father Hicks is not mentioned in the lawsuit.
It is not clear if LaBelle knew Sagona around the time of the alleged abuse of Hansen.
Several lawsuits have been filed in recent months in regard to sexual-abuse claims beyond the statute of limitations to file criminal cases, as part of a year-long window made possible by lawmakers in Albany.
As of Wednesday, Sagona was facing seven lawsuits; five in regard to alleged incidents on Staten Island, and two filed out of southern New Jersey where Sagona headed the Jersey Shore Warriors, a summer-league basketball team. The most recent alleged incident occurred in 2003.
Sources say Sagona is no longer associated with the program.