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Delays Expected In Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Even without a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding by the Diocese of Buffalo, plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by priests would be facing at least a two-year wait for courts to hear their cases.

A state Supreme Court Justice in Erie County has ruled that an unnamed man who attended the Holy Apostles Parish should receive a default judgement against Mark M. Friel, the priest who abused the plaintiff as a child. Damages can’t be decided in the case, though, until cases proceed against the Diocese of Buffalo and Holy Apostles Parish because they hired, retained and supervised Friel.

Judge Deborah A. Chimes of state Supreme Court in Erie County, ruled in January that the plaintiff, who filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit LG 1 Doe v. Mark M. Friel et. al against former Catholic priest Mark M. Friel, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and Holy Apostles Parish of Jamestown, formerly known as Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in August, should receive damages for the abuse he suffered. The man alleges that he was molested in the rectory at Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church from Jan. 1, 1985 through Dec. 31, 1986.

Chimes’ ruling that the man is entitled to damages doesn’t mean payment is forthcoming anytime soon. In addition to alleging abuse, Richard P. Weisbeck Jr. and Christina M. Croglio, the plaintiff’s lawyers from Lipsitz, Green, Scime and Cambria LLP, claimed that in addition to Friel, both the Diocese and the Holy Apostles Parish should be held responsible because

“These documents are sufficient to establish that plaintiff is entitled to a default judgment pursuant to CPLR 3215,” Chimes said in court on Jan. 24. “However, plaintiff’s claim against Defendant Friel implicates the liability of the remaining defendants, as their knowledge of the actions allegedly undertaken by Defendant Friel are part of the basis for the negligent hiring, retention and supervision causes of action. In addition to the extent that the damages are contested by the nondefaulting defendants, this will have a bearing on the amount of damages. Therefore, to grant an award of damages against Defendant Friel on issues affecting the nondefaulting defendants who are still in litigation on liability and damages would be prejudicial to those nondefaulting defendants.”

Weisbeck and Croglio have filed a motion to appeal Chimes’ decision to the Fourth Department Appellate Division in Rochester. A hearing date hasn’t been scheduled. If the appellate court doesn’t overrule Chimes’ decision, the plaintiff would have to wait at least two years for a trial involving the diocese and the parish to begin. That timetable may be on hold given the diocese’s bankruptcy filing, which has resulted in a stay of all actions and proceedings against the diocese.

Jury selection in another case involving the Holy Apostles Parish has tentatively had jury selection scheduled to begin on Feb. 15, 2023. The plaintiff in that case alleges Father John Lewandowski abused the plaintiff when the child was 13 and 14 years old and attending the Jamestown church in 1962 and 1963. That case, too, is at a standstill now due to the bankruptcy proceedings.

Nothing was scheduled in the case of Ab44 DOE v. the Diocese of Buffalo, Our Lady of Victory and St. James Roman Catholic Church in Jamestown. And, while there had been arguments over the approval of a pseudonym in the case of HK1Doe v. the Diocese of Buffalo, St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Agatha’s Catholic School and St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Sinclairville, no scheduling had taken place.

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