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Clergy Sex Abuse Class Action Filed Against Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and the U.S. Catholic Church face a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of individuals who were sexually abused or raped by priests as children. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed last month against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, the estate of Charles Eckermann, Paul Angelicchio, the estate of James Quinn, Jacqueline Bressette and up to 200 unidentified priests.

The lawsuit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, seeking class action status to represent all others who were “tortured and raped” by priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. The lead plaintiff indicates that he was an altar boy during a wedding at St. Ann’s in Manlius in 1988, when he was just 15 years old, and Angelicchio sexually assaulted him while Eckermann looked on. Months later, Eckermann allegedly raped him while Angelicchio stood guard, and Quinn later joined in on clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

The abuse including instances of torture and violent rape, as well as threats against the child’s life, which continued until his confirmation in September 1989, the lawsuit claims. The claims were brought to the Diocese in 2013, which determined that the charges were credible.

“The priests that raped Kevin, Defendants Eckermann, Angelicchio, and Quinn, were part of a larger network of priests who raped children and were sheltered and protected by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse from at least the 1940s, if not earlier, until the present day,” the lawsuit states. “The Diocese collected and literally sheltered known child rapist priests in Syracuse in a coordinated scheme to protect the Church from liability and defraud parishioners who donated countless amounts of money that was then used to pay for the legal defense of rapist priests.”

The lawsuit indicates that the diocese knew there was a problem with the priests. A family reportedly told the Diocese that Eckermann had sexually abused two of their sons between 1984 and 1988. It had also been warned that Quinn and Angelicchio had sexually assaulted numerous children. The Syracuse Police Department had also warned the Diocese that Eckermann, who had taken a vow of chastity, was soliciting male prostitutes.

Eckermann, a Monsignor at the time, was defrocked by the church in 2014. Before that, he was appointed as principal of Bishop Ludden High School in 1984, only to be removed days later with no explanation. Eckermann died in 2016.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Allegations

The lawsuit comes amid heightened attention to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, as dioceses nationwide have been releasing lists of priests facing what the church considers credible accusations of sexual assault against minors and vulnerable adults. The lists began to come out several months after an August 2018 grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.

That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.

The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. Last month, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.

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