PHELPS — Many of the lawsuits being filed under the state’s new Child Victims Act have pseudonyms for the victims’ names attached to their court filings.
Not Peter Saracino of Phelps, who alleges a Capuchin priest at the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary on Lochland Road in Geneva abused him when he was 8 or 9.
If you saw local television coverage Wednesday where attorneys announced they had filed lawsuits on the first day that the Child Victims Act took effect, you may have seen Saracino front and center, talking about his case.
The Act greatly extends the litigation window for those who claimed they were sexually abused as children. The fact that Saracino was one of the victims appearing with lawyers at the press conference in Rochester is hardly a surprise. He has been one of the Catholic Church’s most vocal critics when it comes to clergy abuse and speaks freely about what he says happened to him at the former seminary.
Under the Act, victims can now file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until 28; the previous law was capped at 23. Saracino also is taking advantage of a one-year litigation window that allows those older than 55 to file lawsuits.
On Wednesday, he did just that, naming the Rochester Catholic Diocese, the New Jersey-based Capuchin Friars of the Province of the Sacred Stigmata, Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls.
“This is a momentous time for courageous survivors who have waited so long for justice in New York,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney whose firm, New York-based Jeff Anderson & Associates, specializes in clergy abuse legal actions and filed molestation lawsuits Wednesday on behalf of hundreds of clients. In all, 427 sex abuse lawsuits were filed by 5 p.m. Wednesday across New York.
Saracino, a retired Marcus Whitman teacher, is being represented by Mike Reck of Jeff Anderson & Associates. He said it’s not about what he can get in damages.
“I’m seeking accountability and transparency,” Saracino said Thursday. “It never has been about the money. It’s about transparency. We want them to come clean (with what the church knows).”
Saracino said many of the priests accused of sexual abuse are still among active clergy.
“For me and for most of us, it’s about protecting kids,” he said.
At the press conference Wednesday in downtown Rochester, Saracino challenged Catholic leaders “to embrace this moment as a call to conversion.”
He said that in “continuing to leave children vulnerable to predators currently in ministry, church leaders have profoundly dishonored the name of he (God), whom they profess to serve. At the same time, they have also squandered the precious moral authority they once possessed — an authority desperately needed for the times in which we now live. 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. 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 precious children and grandchildren.”
He urged church parishioners not to leave the church but to put pressure the diocese in the only way he believes they will understand: by cutting them off financially.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to practice your faith,” said Saracino.
The Rochester Diocese is not commenting on the lawsuits, but in a video message released last week, Bishop Salvatore 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. .. We will remain vigilant as the days unfold.”
Matano touched on the ramifications of the lawsuits, saying the diocese is ”reviewing all possibilities,” with outcomes that are “sensitive and fair to all victims.”
Saracino fears the diocese may declare bankruptcy, which could prevent lawyers from probing any diocesan documents. However, he said experienced firms such as Jeff Anderson & Associates have developed methods to obtain those records.