Dozens of sex abuse lawsuits filed after new one-year window opens in New York

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As of Wednesday afternoon, 36 cases were filed with the Monroe County Court Clerk pertaining to child sex abuse allegations. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The floodgates opened at midnight Wednesday as sex abuse survivors across New York began filing lawsuits in hopes of obtaining justice.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 37 cases were filed with the Monroe County Court Clerk pertaining to child sex abuse allegations. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed with offices across the state.

Many of the victims in Monroe County allege abuse by clergy with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, spanning nearly four decades from 1959 until 1996. The diocese serves 12 counties in the Rochester area, including Monroe, Wayne, Livingston, Steuben, Ontario, Seneca, Cayuga, Tompkins, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga, and Yates counties.

The age ranges of the victims were as young as five years old and as old as 27, according to the filings.

One lawsuit was filed against the Webster Central School District and a former teacher who is accused of fondling the victim when he was eight years old in the showers, towel room, and on school trips.

Of the 37 lawsuits filed, the following are the priests, teachers, seminarians and clergy accused of abusing victims:

  • Father Joseph Beatini
  • Father John Cherry
  • Father Paul Cloonan
  • Father Leo Francis Dunn
  • Father Gerald Dunn
  • Father Robert Gaudio
  • Father Anthony Giudice
  • Father John Gormley
  • Father Joseph Larrabee
  • Father Robert Meng
  • Father Robert Miller
  • Father Robert Nolan
  • Father William O'Malley
  • Father Robert O’Neill
  • Father Richard Orlando
  • Father Vincent Panepinto
  • Father Jacob Rauber
  • Father Francis Vogt
  • Sister Bernadine
  • Sister Madeline Cox
  • Brother Dennis Sewar
  • Deacon George Finch
  • Roman Catholic Seminarian Robert Schmidt
  • Marcel Sinasac, teacher at Basilian Fathers (St. Basil) and Aquinas Institute
  • Albert H. Cason

In most of the lawsuits, the victims were parishioners, students and participants in church activities. The majority of the plaintiffs were identified as Jane or John Doe with assigned numbers so that their names were not associated with the case.

Fr. Robert F O'Neill was named in 12 different suits. The new accusations span from 1964 to 1996. One survivor says Fr. O'Neill sexually assaulted them in a cornfield in 1964. Another says they were sexually abused from 1985-1996.

Fr. O'Neill has died, according to the Diocese.

Other suits name priests like Fr. Francis Vogt. He's accused in four new lawsuits today. In one suit against Vogt, a survivor says they were discouraged from reporting the incident because of the "Catholic culture."

Another suit against former priest Vincent Panepinto claims Panepinto sexually abused him 30 times in ten years.

At a news conference held Wednesday by attorneys at Jeff Anderson and Associates, survivors Peter Saracino of Geneva and Christopher Szuflita spoke. Saracino alleges he was abused by a Capuchin Franciscan priest when he was eight years old.

"I challenge Church leaders to be completely transparent and accountable in their dealings with survivors. It is the only way they can regain the moral authority they have so carelessly squandered," Saracino said Wednesday. "It is also the only way that rank-and-file Catholics can be assured that the Church will once again be a safe place for their children and grandchildren.”

Saracino says the pain he went through has been emotionally damaging for decades.

"I cannot imagine an experience more emotionally, psychological, or spiritually damaging for a Catholic child, boy or girl, to have to endure," said Saracino.

"We have the power now. We’re no longer giving it to the church," said Szuflita. "And I encourage anyone else that’s out there, don’t be afraid to step forward and make a phone call, because there is help and you don’t have to suffer anymore."

The Diocese of Rochester assigned some of the accused priests to lives of prayer and penance with no public ministry possible. Those included Vogt and Panepinto. Others requested voluntary laicization, meaning the accused asked to be separated from the clerical state. Those included Cason, Cloonan, and Larrabee.

O'Neill died while complaints against him were being investigated. Fr. Vogt is also dead, and the Diocese says Panepinto was removed from ministry in 2011.

The Diocese added that it received "proven or acknowledged complaints" against three members of church clergy before 2002, including Gormley.

A spokesperson for the Diocese said, out of respect for the legal process, the Diocese is refraining from commenting on specific cases.

In a video message to the Catholic faithful released last week, Bishop Matano said, “I renew my most sincere apology to anyone who was harmed by a cleric or Church personnel who so terribly violated their position of trust and scarred the very lives of those whom they were called to serve. I pray that the victims and all affected by these egregious acts will find healing and hope. Know that Our Lord never abandons us and is always present, especially in times of grave difficulty and suffering. Our diocesan efforts of many years to heal and to restore victims, and to create a safe environment, will continue. We will remain vigilant.”