PHELPS — Pete Saracino is one of 45 people who has filed sexual abuse claims against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester since the Child Victims Act opened a one-year window for claims that had been barred by the statute of limitations.
A Seneca Falls native and Phelps resident, Saracino claims he was sexually abused as a young boy at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Geneva by a Capuchin Order monk. Saracino has also sued that religious order, the New Jersey-based Capuchin Friars of the Province of the Sacred Stigmata and St. Francis-St. Clare Parish in Seneca Falls and Waterloo.
Diocesan officials, facing the possibility of even more claims being filed over the next year, filed for Chapter 11 reorganizational bankruptcy in federal court Thursday morning.
Saracino is not happy with the move.
“I have long held that the church leadership’s response to the tragedy of the criminal, sexual violation of children and vulnerable adults at the hands of its priests and nuns was, and continues to be, a profound betrayal of children, their families and their very mission to be the face of God on earth,’’ he said in a statement issued in response to the filing.
“Along the way, they have irresponsibly squandered a commodity infinitely more precious than any sum of money they may lose, namely, the moral authority they once enjoyed,’’ he said.
“Bishop (Salvatore) Matano’s decision to file for reorganization in the face of lawsuits brought about by the passage of the Child Victims Act simply continues the practice.’’
Saracino said while the bishop claims this decision is about preventing potential financial loss, he believes it is “disingenuous’’ to claim reorganization is necessary because the diocese can’t afford the losses. He notes the diocese has never publicly stated how much insurance exists to cover those losses.
“He also claims the decision is in the best interest of survivors. But his behavior unmasks his true motivation. He knows full well that by filing for reorganization, the all-important discovery phase of potential lawsuits will either by severely hamstrung or brought to a screeching halt,’’ Saracino said.
He said the bishop also knows if the lawsuits are allowed to proceed, “complicit bishops would undergo uncomfortable depositions and may be discredited and disgraced when their corruption is unmasked.’’
“Secrets and careers may no longer be protected. The hemorrhaging of declining membership appalled by the continued scandal and its cover-up may continue and their penchant for hiding behind shrewd lawyers and savvy PR pros, while making vague promises of reform, will be exposed,’’ Saracino said.
“Sadly, and most heinously, it also means that predators that may currently be serving in our parishes will still be in business,’’ he said.
Saracino believes the reorganization is a tactical move to keep survivors quiet and to forestall justice. He urged all “rank and file Catholics’’ to demand total accountability and transparency from Matano.
“The path of total honesty is the only way the church can hope to regain even a modicum of the moral authority it has squandered. It is also the only way the church can assure the broader community it is a place where it is safe for families to worship,’’ he concluded.