20 suits filed against Diocese of Ogdensburg for alleged priest sexual abuse

WWNY 20 suits filed against Diocese of Ogdensburg for alleged priest sexual abuse

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Two law firms are filing 20 child sex abuse claims against the Diocese of Ogdensburg, including cases involving 8 priests not previously accused.

Jeff Anderson & Associates and LaFave Wein & Frament filed the cases Tuesday under the New York Child Victims Act.

“Fundamentally, these survivors have not come forward to get money or a payout. They’ve come forward for answers and for truth,” said Taylor Stipple, lawyer with Jeff Anderson & Associates.

The firms have now filed a total of 34 lawsuits against the diocese. The cases had been stuck in limbo after courts closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 8 priests newly accused of sex abuse are:

- Monsignor F. Gordon Coseo, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1971 to 1976 at Notre Dame Church in Malone.

- Father Joseph W. Elliott, accused of sexually abusing a minor from approximately 1985 to 1988 at St. Michael’s in Parishville and St. Mary’s in Potsdam.

- Father George A. Fontaine, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1971 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Schroon Lake.

- Father Frank M. Kearns, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1965 to 1967 at St. Joseph’s in Dannemora.

- Monsignor Joseph F. Luker, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1971 or 1972 at St. Peter’s in Lowville.

- Monsignor John F. Pendergast, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1987 to 1989 at St. Mary’s in Massena.

- Father Donald E. Seguin, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1961 at Sacred Heart in Crown Point.

- Monsignor Floyd J. Brown, accused of sexually abusing a minor in approximately 1987 to 1991 at St. Mary’s in Massena.

In cases involving priests who have already been accused:

- Four complaints allege abuse by Father Emile G. LaLonde in the 1960s and 1970s when he was assigned to St. John the Baptist in Madrid and St. Augustine in North Bangor. The firms have now filed a total of five cases implicating LaLonde.

- Four complaints name Father John J. Fallon, who was criminally convicted in connection with receiving child pornography in the mail in 1986. The firms have now filed a total of five cases naming Fallon.

- Two complaints allege abuse by Father Liam O’Doherty, who was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury in 1979 for sexually abusing minors at St. Ann’s in St. Regis Falls. One of the complaints filed Tuesday alleges abuse dating back to 1966, shortly after O’Doherty was ordained. The firms have now filed a total of four complaints implicating O’Doherty.

The diocese already faces 30 other lawsuits. Attorneys say more will be coming.

“Part of the problem is we just don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know what’s out there. Again a number of these are new allegations against priests that have never been accused before,” said Darcy Fargo, Diocese of Ogdensburg communications director.

Fr. Joseph W. Elliott, accused of abuse at St. Michael in Parishville, can still say Masses as a retired priest. But the diocese could not determine on Tuesday if he was.

“This is the first time we’ve heard that allegation and so this is the first time that’s been investigated,” said Fargo.

The Child Victims Act, which was enacted in early 2019, allows victims of alleged sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers no matter how long ago the abuse happened.

The window for lawsuits was set to close on August 13, but was extended a year in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In February, the diocese said it was considering declaring bankruptcy. It hasn’t done that yet. But these lawsuits could push it one step further in that direction.

The Syracuse diocese declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy a week-and-a-half ago. The Ogdensburg diocese says its decision has been delayed in part by the COVID-19 lockdown.

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