Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady was named in at least 10 lawsuits Wednesday alleging the institution and the Albany diocese failed to protect children from abuse at the hands of Catholic brothers working there in the 1970s.
A separate suit claims priests ministering at St. Paul the Apostle and St. John the Baptist churches in Schenectady sexually abused children. In one case the alleged victim was as young as seven years old; in another case, the plaintiff claims he was abused in the church rectory by multiple priests.
A wave of new sexual abuse allegations against the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese emerged Wednesday as a yearlong “look-back” window opened to allow abuse survivors to bring suit against their alleged abusers regardless of statute of limitations, under the state’s new Child Victims Act signed by the governor in February.
Former longtime Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard were among those accused of sexual abuse.
The abuses alleged in the suits filed against the Albany Diocese dated as far back as 1955 and as recently as 1998; at least one plaintiff in the region claimed sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and brothers when the plaintiff was just six years old. Other plaintiffs alleged sexual abuse that continued for years and occurred in sacred spaces, schools and at church camps. One law firm, Jeff Anderson and Associates, filed 19 suits against the Albany Diocese and more than 260 suits statewide on Wednesday, promising more to come. Another law firm filed one complaint against the Albany Diocese that included 10 plaintiffs and named a litany of priests alleged to have sexually abused children.
“I don’t believe there will be accountability in heaven or hell, so we have to do it here,” said Jeanne Marron, who filed suit Wednesday alleging she was abused by Brother James Vincent Hanney while a student at Bishop Gibbons in the late 1970s.
Marron, who grew up in Colonie in a devout Catholic family, started at Bishop Gibbons as a high school freshman the year after the school went co-educational, she said after a press conference outlining allegations in suits filed by Anderson and Guilderland attorney Cynthia LaFave. When Marron was a sophomore she was moved to Hanney’s homeroom class and invited to his office for counseling, after which she claims he started to groom and eventually abuse and rape her – at age 16.
She said she was abused on camping trips in New Jersey and Maine and also claimed that even after Hanney was transferred to a school in the Bronx, he would return to Schenectady to continue his abuse of her. She alleged that he would show up at the Catholic college she attended in New Rochelle.
“You didn’t question anyone in a collar,” Marron said. “You didn’t question the nuns, the brothers, the priests.”
At least nine other plaintiffs represented by Anderson and LaFave filed suit against Bishop Gibbons, also claiming sexual abuse at the hands of Hanney and Brother Clement Murphy, whose alleged abuses dated to as early as the 1950s.
Marron said she was unable to confide in others about the abuse, fearing what her abuser would do to her. Even when she sought therapy in college, she struggled to find advocates who took her claims of abuse seriously. For years she kept the alleged abuses to herself, pursuing a career in mental health services and struggling with PTSD.
“It forced me to live a double life,” she said of keeping the abuse largely to herself year after year. “I had to be a liar for most of my life, until I decided not to.”
Current Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger in a statement said the diocese “will face challenges in the months ahead” as allegations emerged under the new law. He promised the church would support abuse survivors and work toward reconciliation.
“Although we cannot know the extent of what is before us, we do know that we will be a different Church when this process is over, but we will be a better Church because of it,” Scharfenberger said. “The truth is the only way through this, and the truth will set us free.”
The allegations against Bishop Gibbons primarily stem from the alleged abuse of Hanney, who worked at Bishop Gibbons as a teacher and counselor in the 1970s. The lawsuits claim the school and the Albany Diocese should have been aware Hanney sexually abused children and did nothing to prevent him from doing so.
“(Bishop Gibbons and the Albany Diocese) allowed Br. Hanney to remain on Defendants’ property even though they knew or should have known of Br. Hanney’s dangerous sexual propensities,” according to the lawsuits.
In the multi-plaintiff suit, filed by the Marsh Law Firm in White Plains, one of the plaintiffs, a Schenectady woman using the pseudonym M.D., claimed to have been abused by Brother Clement Murphy beginning when she was just seven years old in mid-1960s. The abuse allegedly occurred at St. Paul’s Church in Schenectady and at Bishop Gibbons.
“During the time Brother Murphy was employed by the Diocese, he used his position as a religious brother, school administrator, and/or teacher to groom and sexually abuse plaintiff,” the suit alleged.
The suit claims the Albany diocese should have been aware of Murphy’s alleged abuses because “numerous parishioners and students talked openly about the fact that Brother Murphy had sexually abused others before M.D. was abused.”
Moreover, the suit claims that M.D. reported her alleged abuse to both a nun and a priest but received no support.
“Despite that report, not only did (the sister) fail to do anything to prevent M.D. from continuing to be sexually abused by Brother Murphy, but (the sister) continued to send M.D. to Brother Murphy,” according to the suit.
Timothy Sawicki, of Schenectady, also joined the multi-plaintiff lawsuit. He alleged when he was 16 and 17 years old from 1975 to 1977 he was groomed and sexually abused by the Rev. Alan Jupin, who worked at St. John the Baptist in Schenectady.
“Father Jupin exploited the trust and authority vested in him by defendants by grooming Timothy to gain his trust and to obtain control over him as part of Father Jupin’s plan to sexually molest and abuse Timothy,”
Sawicki claimed Jupin introduced him to other priests who also sexually abused him.
“Father Jupin hosted the other priests at the rectory and introduced them to Timothy, whom they then sexually abused,” according to the suit.
The flood of allegations emerged on just the first day allegations once barred by statute of limitations were allowed to be filed in court under the new state law. And lawyers involved in the first batch of suits promised more were coming and called on other abuse survivors to come forward. The suits will be allowed for one year.
“We will use every day of that window,” LaFave said.
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