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Catholic School Abuse Lawsuit Alleges Priests, Teachers and Administrators Groomed Student for Sexual Assault

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According to allegations raised in a recently filed child sex abuse lawsuit, the Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York fostered a culture that allowed priests, teachers and administrators in the church and Catholic school system to prey on children.

Following recent changes to New York’s statute of limitations, a number of Catholic school abuse cases have been filed on behalf of individuals who were sexually molested as children.

In a complaint (PDF) filed by last week, a 60 year old man indicates he was sexually abused by priests and other individuals associated with the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Syracuse as both a parishioner at his family’s church and while attending Catholic School.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, naming the diocese, as well Catholic Central High School, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Robert Kloster and David Pichette as defendants.

The plaintiff indicates that he attended Catholic School from 1973 to 1977, and his family were devout Catholics and parishioners at St. Thomas Church in Binghamton, New York. His parents always instructed him to trust and obey the respected clergy and members of the Diocese, who allegedly took advantage of their positions to groom him, with the goal of seducing and sexually abusing him when he was a young child.

The first abuse occurred in 1969, when the plaintiff was an altar boy at the Catholic church and encountered Kloster. Several years later, when he attended Seton Catholic Central High School from 1974 to 1977, the plaintiff indicates that he was abused by Pichette, as well as Zedar, who was principal of the Catholic school at the time.

According to allegations presented in the claim, the Diocese knew about the abuse and concealed it for years. In December 2018, the diocese published a letter naming 57 priests who have faced credible abuse accusations, and all three of the abusers identified in the complaint were on this list.

“Kloster, Pichette and Zedar abused their positions as priests, teachers and school administrators to methodically groom and prey on John in furtherance of their own sexual gratification,” the lawsuit states. “All the while, the Diocese was negligent in its hiring, supervision and retention of the clergy under its employ, by failing to protect John from the abuse he endured while under their care.”

Statute of Limitation Changes Opened Floodgate Of Child Sex Abuse Claims

Although the sexual abuse occurred decades ago, the claim was able to be filed after a statute of limitation extension went into effect in New York state in August 2019, allowing previously time-barred claims to be filed against abusers and institutions that enabled the conduct.

The Child Victims Act was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in February 2019, extending the statute of limitations for sex abuse claims in New York until the age of 55, and allowing criminal charges to be brought against an abuser until the victim is 28 years old. The law also provided a one year “window” for claims like the one raised in this complaint, which is currently set to expire on August 14, 2020.

Several states have also passed similar laws into effect, including New Jersey and California. A number of other states are also considering, or are in the process of putting in place, similar laws.

After the New York law went into effect, courts there saw an influx of more than 1,300 cases between August 14 and the end of last year. Most involved allegations against the Catholic Church, or the Boy Scouts of America, which declared bankruptcy under the weight of the litigation on Monday.

As child sex abuse lawyers continue to review and file claims over the coming months, the number of lawsuits filed in New York state is expected to increase, as the deadline for previously expired claims approaches in August 2020.

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