GENEVA — Peter Saracino went public last year, divulging the name of a Capuchin friar he alleges abused him as a child at a former Geneva seminary. At the time he suggested others were abused as well.
Geneva native Sandy McGovern believes her mother was a victim.
After reading a story in the Finger Lakes Times about the recent passage of the Child Victims Law, she reached out to Saracino.
“She was very nervous to talk about it,” McGovern said of her late mother, Sylvia Bedell, as she sat on Saracino’s porch on McIvor Road in Phelps on a recent afternoon. “I believe he (the priest) robbed her of her childhood and of her sanity.”
McGovern now lives in Newark. She said the priest who allegedly abused her mother died two years ago. He was a member of the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary on Lochland Road — a place where young men considered life as Capuchin friars.
The former Geneva seminary, now the site of the luxury resort Geneva on the Lake, was run by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Province of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis of Union City, N.J.
‘I remember him well’
Her mother spent some time there in some capacity, said McGovern, adding that the alleged abuser was friends with her grandparents.
“He (the friar) used to come to the house,” she said. “I don’t know if the abuse happened at the seminary or at the house.”
McGovern’s mother died at 43 in 1988, but before she did, she revealed the alleged abuse to her daughter.
“I remember him well,” McGovern said. “And every time he left, he would hand her a wad full of cash.”
McGovern said when she was 22, she finally asked her mother about the payments, which she thinks were given to her a couple of times a year. It was then that she said her mother divulged the alleged abuse.
“She said it was hush money because he raped her,” said McGovern, who is unsure of the specific date of the abuse — Saracino said it was likely in the 1950s — and whether it was at McGovern’s grandparents’ house or at the seminary.
“She was afraid to talk about it,” McGovern added. “You didn’t talk about it.”
She said it had a profound effect on her mother.
“I do know she was afraid to go anywhere by herself,” she said. “She was timid, shy.”
McGovern believes the payments went on for years, even after he left the seminary.
“She didn’t feel like she had anybody she could talk to about it,” said McGovern.
“When you’re violated, it’s bad enough, but when it’s a priest, you don’t even have God to talk to,” said Saracino.
Saracino said he talked with the friar who allegedly abused McGovern’s mom while looking into his own alleged abuse by a Capuchin friar.
“Here I was, zinging him about not investigating (claims of abuse), not knowing he was guilty (of abuse),” Saracino said.
He pulled out a seminary yearbook and showed a photo of the two friars he and McGovern allege were the abusers.
“My guy is one side and (he) is on the other,” he said.
Saracino, a retired Marcus Whitman teacher who grew up in Seneca Falls and now lives in Phelps, claims a Capuchin priest abused him when he was 8 or 9 at the former Catholic seminary.
Response from order
Contacted Monday, the New Jersey-based order referred questions to their attorney, Mark Reardon of Wilmington, Delaware.
Reardon said he would consult with officials from the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Province of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis as to whether any comment on the allegations would be coming.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the order had not responded.
The Finger Lakes Times knows the names of the alleged abusers but is not divulging them because the order has not acknowledged the abuse.
Saracino said he plans on suing the order — and the Archdiocese of Rochester — under that Child Victims Act. Under the act, child-abuse victims can file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. It also includes a one-year litigation window for victims of any age, and that provides Saracino with the opportunity to seek damages.
The Rochester diocese will be included in the suit, Saracino said, because a monk working at the former Geneva seminary would have needed permission from the diocese’s bishop to perform his religious duties.