CAPITAL REGION — Frances P. Melfe, a former Catholic priest in Schenectady who allegedly lived with a woman and abused her children while still a priest, died Friday night. He was 91.
Melfe, who served as a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany from 1954 until he resigned in 1979, ministered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood from 1971 to 1979. He also worked at churches in Gloversville, Troy, Hudson and Albany.
Melfe was removed from the priesthood in 2012 and has been on an Albany Diocese list of priests credibly accused of child abuse.
After the state opened the door last month to lawsuits that had not been filed before their statute of limitation ran out, a family of siblings filed a lawsuit accusing Melfe of secretly living with their mother and abusing them while they were children. Melfe is also accused of fathering one of the children.
The five siblings – David F. Melfe, Sandra M. Sculli, Joann E. Steve, John J. Steve, and Robert G. Steve – allege that Melfe secretly lived with their mother in their single-family Guilderland home while he was priest at the Schenectady church.
The lawsuit alleges that the four older children, who are now in their 50s and early 60s, suffered repeated sexual abuse at Melfe’s hands, that he made them complicit in the theft of church funds and that he gave them sips of alcohol while he molested them. The suit also alleges that Melfe fathered the family’s youngest child, David Melfe, who was born in 1972. The alleged acts by Melfe included “molestation, sexual assault, rape, incest, forced inebriation, corruption of minors” and more, according to the suit.
The lawsuit also names the Albany Diocese and former Bishop Howard J. Hubbard as defendants and argues they should have been aware of Melfe’s abuse and failed to prevent it.
Joann Harri, a lawyer representing the five siblings, said they were not notified of Melfe’s death until listening to a message left at the law office over the weekend. Harri said Melfe’s death certificate indicated he died from various forms of cancer. Harri also said Melfe’s death shouldn’t have a major impact on their case.
“We still have the primary defendants, which are the diocese and Bishop Hubbard,” Harri said.
Mary DeTurris Poust, a spokeswoman for the Albany Diocese, said the diocese was informed of Melfe’s death and that he was buried at Our Lady of Angels Cemetery on Tuesday. She said the diocese would not make a statement because Melfe was no longer a priest and had not served in ministry for 40 years.