16 lawsuits filed against Diocese of Ogdensburg

Sexual abuse lawsuits

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - 16 lawsuits were filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg Wednesday, as part of New York state’s new Child Victims Act.

The act gives adult survivors of child sexual abuse a year - starting Wednesday - to bring claims for sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. The act is unleashing a torrent of lawsuits against institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.

Although the language of the individual lawsuits filed against the Ogdensburg diocese varies slightly, they generally charge the Diocese ‘knew or should have known’ the priests named were a danger to children.

10 of the priests named in the lawsuits have already been identified by the Diocese as either being dead or removed from the priesthood.

Four priests are named for the first time.

The four named for the first time are:

- Father Joseph Francoeur, who allegedly abused a person between the ages of 4 and 5, in 1959 and 1960

- Father James Delbel, who allegedly abused a person between the ages of 9 and 10, in 1990 and 1991

- Father Andrew Mulvaney, who allegedly abused a person between the ages of 14 and 15 in 1978 and 1979

- Father John (Jack) Downs, who allegedly abused a 16 year old in 1995

The priests named all served in churches in northern New York.

Three of the four newly named priests - Francoeur, Delbel and Mulvaney - are either inactive or dead, according to a Diocese official.

The fourth, Father Downs, was investigated by the Diocese but cleared of wrong-doing, said Darcy Fargo, spokeswoman for the Diocese. Downs is said to be mostly retired, and still lives in St. Lawrence County.

“Obviously we’re disappointed to learn of any incidents of abuse,” said Fargo, “but at the same time, we’re happy to have anyone who has been a victim come forward and try to find healing through whatever mechanism they choose.”

The law firm filing the majority of the lawsuits held a press conference Thursday afternoon in Watertown.

“It’s time for the truth to be known that has been so hidden by so many here in Ogdensburg and across the state,” said Jeff Anderson, of Jeff Anderson & Associates.

Lawyers from Anderson’s firm and from LaFave, Wein & Frament, PLLC were in Watertown to announce 14 lawsuits the firms have filed against the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

The lawsuits these firms filed name 13 priests that served in 16 churches across the diocese. Some of the alleged abuse dates back as far as the 1950s.

“We knew that in this diocese and in this geography there are a lot of offenders that have never been revealed and are yet to be,” said Anderson, "we knew that practices here are dangerous and have been perilous and there has been a strict adherence by the catholic bishop, bishops here to adhere to secrecy and avoidance of scandal.”

Cynthia LaFave, of LaFave, Wein & Frament, PLLC, says victims are being give back some power by the Child Victims Act.

“They now have the right to not only speak, but to seek recourse because of what happened to them,” said LaFave.

Of the 13 priests named, this is the first time 4 of the names have been made public (they are described above).

The other 10 had already been on a “list of offenders” the Diocese released last November, of priests who were removed from the ministry because of “reasonable grounds” of sexual abuse, as well as clergy who died or left the ministry.

The lawyers say that list doesn’t go far enough and that the diocese needs to do the right thing and make more information public.

“What isn’t on that list is the full histories of each of those priests, where they worked, their current whereabouts. We only know which priests on that list are deceased according to the diocese,” said Taylor Stippel, of Jeff Anderson & Associates.

LaFave says this is just the tip of the iceburg. She says to expect more lawsuits against the Ogdensburg Diocese and other institutions.

In reponse to the lawsuits the diocese says it is disappointed to learn of any abuse but is there to help.

Darcy Fargo/ Communications Director, Diocese of Ogdensburg: “we want to help them in any way we can. Whether it be by helping them arrange counseling or spiritual aid or compensation through whatever means it is but our ultimate goal here is to help people find healing and to find reconciliation.”

The Diocese of Ogdensburg does have its own method of investigating people’s abuse claims.

“People can contact the victims assistance coordinator or the Vicar for Clergy. There is an investigation process and it works with the diocesan review board and Bishop LaValley, but we are willing to work outside the court mechanisms to help people find that healing and to get any compensation to which they’re entitled,” said Fargo.

The victims assistance coordinator for the diocese, Terrianne Yanulavich, can be reached during the day at (518)651-2267, at night at (518)569-0612 or by email at terrianneyanulavich@yahoo.com.

The Vicar for Clergy is Father Christopher Carrara. He can be reached at 315-393-2920 ext. 1340, or by email at ccarrara@rcdony.org.

Wednesday, two men with north country ties filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts, claiming they had been sexually abused at a Scout camp in St. Lawrence County.

The priests named in Wednesday’s lawsuits who had already been identified by the Diocese of Ogdensburg as being dead or removed from the priesthood include:

- Father John Fallon, accused of abusing a person between the ages of 11 and 15 and a person between the ages of 12 and 14 in 1979 and 1980

- Father Paul Worczak, accused of abusing a 15 year old in 1979

- Father Clark White, accused of abusing a person between the ages of 16 and 18, between 1984 and 1987

- Father Robert Shurtleff, accused of abusing an 11 year old in 1970

- Father Liam O’Dougherty, accused of abusing an 11 year old in 1976 and a person between the ages of 9 and 14, between 1974 and 1979

- Father Gerald McGrath, accused of abusing a person between the ages of 7 and 12, from 1964 to 1969

- Father Emile G. LaLonde, accused of abusing a person between the ages of 10 and 13, from 1964 to 1967

- Father Edwin A. Kennedy, accused of abusing a 17 year old in 1966

- Father Thomas Squires, accused of abuse between 1976 and 1982

- Father Albert Plante, accused of abusing a 14 year old in 1976

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