SYRACUSE — Six lawsuits filed this week against the Diocese of Syracuse allege its parishes neglected to protect children from predatory sex offenders employed as priests in the diocese’s seven-county network.
Law firms LaFave, Wein & Frament and Jeff Anderson and Associates — leading partners in a national crusade to prosecute abuse scandals in at high profile organizations like Catholic Church and Boys Scouts of America — filed 262 lawsuits against dioceses across the state on Wednesday, Aug. 14, when the New York State Child Victims Act went into effect.
Wednesday’s lawsuits name priests who operated in parishes in the Syracuse Diocese’s seven-county reach — Daniel W. Casey, Felix R. Colosimo, Bernard Garstka, Edward C. Madore, Thomas E. Neary and Wilhelm Golli — two of whom were employed in Oswego County before they died. According to Catholic Church records, Rev. Daniel Casey worked from 1987 to 1989 at St. Paul’s, and Rev. Thomas R. Neary worked from 1971-1972 in Hannibal at Our Lady of the Rosary.
Multiple boys who claimed Casey abused them in 1992 sued Casey, who died in 2000. Neary was also the subject of prior accusations and died in 2001.
Five of the priests named in the suit were named by the Syracuse Diocese’s blacklist of priests with credible accusations of abuse against them, published in December 2018. Wilhelm Golli is a new name that came to light in the months since the firm began working with survivors.
The New York State Child Victims Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February, authorizes a one-year window that began Wednesday for abuse survivors up to the age of 55 to file civil suits against their alleged abusers and the organizations alleged to have protected abusers.
“This is one of the most promising days in the child protection movement in America because we have seen the Child Victims Act open up so many opportunities for truth, for child protection and for the recovery of powers by the survivors,” Attorney Jeff Anderson of Anderson and Associates told reporters at Thursday morning’s press conference in Syracuse.
Under previous statutes of limitations, childhood sexual abuse offenses could not be prosecuted five years after they were alleged to have occurred. Civil suits had to be brought within three years of the victim’s 18th birthday. The Child Victims Act increases the amount of time during which sex abusers can be held criminally accountable, allows victims to commence a civil suit at any point prior to turning 55 and eliminates the requirement to file a notice of claim for sexual offenses committed against a minor.
Cynthia LaFave of LaFave, Wein & Frament said her firms’ lawyers have spent the months following the passage of the Child Victims Act consulting survivors of sex abuse throughout upstate New York to release them from “the prison of secrecy.”
“These survivors, with the courage and the ability to now speak, are coming forward and changing the entire horizon of our world,” LaFave told reporters at a Thursday morning press conference. “They are protecting not only the children who are alive today, but the children who will be in our world for generations to come.”
In addition to the six lawsuits against the Syracuse Diocese Wednesday, LaFave demanded Bishop Lucia release all names of credibly accused priests operating in the diocese and any details related to their prosecution.
Anderson accused the Catholic institutions of covering up abuse scandals and codifying practices of suppressing scandals by relocating priests to other churches in the diocesan network, exposing other children to abuse. However, he declined to comment on the extent to which these practices were used at parishes under the Syracuse Diocese’s control.
Anticipating the Child Victims Act would open the floodgates to new accusations against the Diocese of Syracuse, newly installed Bishop Douglas Lucia told diocesan families in an Aug. 10 letter that the diocese and all the institutions it oversees will cooperate with legal entities working to ensure justice is served under new state legislation.
“We will turn all such matters over to legal counsel to ensure that they are handled properly and fairly,” Lucia said. “I am committed to be as forthcoming as we are able in such matters while respecting the confidentiality that accompanies the due process of law.”
Catholic communities and institutions will “experience afresh the pain of sacred trust violated and the victims and their families whose spirits and lives have been so demoralized and harmed,” Bishop Lucia said, and offered sincere apologies “for the heinous acts perpetrated against them by their abusers who were supposed to be the caregivers of souls.”