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Sexual abuse cases hit the court

Parishes named include Fredonia, Forestville, Jamestown and Frewsburg

Scores of lawsuits were filed in New York state on Wednesday — including at least four involving churches in Chautauqua County — allowing victims of childhood sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers.

Many of the claims were filed in Erie County Supreme Court, and charged the Diocese of Buffalo of allowing abuse by priests and staff to go on for decades. Locally, churches in Jamestown, Frewsburg, Fredonia and Forestville were identified in suits filed in Buffalo.

Wednesday marked the start of a one-year litigation window in New York allowing people to file civil lawsuits that had previously been barred by the state’s statute of limitations. The law, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is known as the Child Victims Act.

“Child sexual abuse is a real epidemic. It’s been in the corners and in the shadows, but it is much more widespread than people want to admit,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The Child Victims Act says if you were sexually abused as a child, you have a right to justice and to make your case. Children have legal rights, and if you abuse a child, you’re going to have your day in court and you’re going to be called to answer for it.”

A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the Buffalo Diocese and St. John’s Church, now known as Holy Apostles Parish in Jamestown. The victim, according to their attorney, Steve Boyd of Williamsville, reported to be the subject of “unpermitted sexual contact” by the Rev. Francis T. Hogan at the 508 Cherry St. church between 1948 and 1949. The victim was between 9 and 10 years old when the sexual abuse is alleged to have occurred.

Hogan served at several local churches after he was ordained in 1946. Some of his posts included Immaculate Conception in Cassadaga in 1947; St. John’s from 1948-49; St. Mary in Little Valley from 1966-70; and St. Patrick in Salamanca from 1971-81. He was on “sick leave” from 1983-84 before he retired to Florida in 1985.

Hogan, who died in 2010, was included on a list of priests accused of child sexual abuse by the diocese in March 2018.

The suit claims that the church and diocese failed to report known or suspected abuse of children by Hogan.

“As a direct result of defendants’ negligence as described herein, plaintiff has suffered, and will continue to suffer, great pain of mind and body, severe and permanent emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation, physical, personal and psychological injuries,” the suit states.

In an interview, Boyd said his goal is to bring each case he files — dozens so far in Buffalo and Rochester — to trial to allow victims the chance to tell their stories.

“For me, working in this space came naturally to me,” said Boyd, a former television reporter in Buffalo before becoming a lawyer. “We were breaking the first stories of abuse. … We started talking to people who would ask, ‘Can you take this case? Gradually, we got more and more, and each one of them is so tragic that this had to happen to them. They’ve had to carry the weight of this secretly for their whole lives.”

The diocese and St. James Parish were also named in a suit as part of the Child Victims Act. The complaint involves Our Lady of Victory, at the time located in Frewsburg, now part of St. James.

The victim claims they were abused by the Rev. James P. Hayes, a priest, at the Frewsburg church between 1967 to 1970.

Hayes was ordained in 1947, and served in churches in Ripley, Tonawanda, Kenmore, Frewsburg and Buffalo. He died in 1988. Hayes’ name was included on a list of priests accused of abuse.

St. Joseph’s Church in Fredonia was listed in a suit filed Wednesday brought by New York City attorney Jordan K. Merson. The Rev. Edward J. Walker was accused of sexually abusing a victim at the 145 E. Main St. church and “other venues” between 1953 and 1963.

According to Merson, the abuse took place weekly when the male victim was 12 to 21 years old. The encounters began after the victim’s father had died.

“This abuse had been going on since my client was 12 years old,” Merson said in an interview. “He had been searching for answers after his father’s death, and this priest took advantage of this vulnerability.”

Merson, who said Wednesday was the “toughest day” of his professional career, said he hopes the Buffalo Diocese will allow victims to share their stories, and in doing so, bring some closure to their lives by learning “who knew what and when.”

“This opportunity has literally been 65 years in the making,” he said of his client. “He will have the opportunity to get some answers. And like I’ve been saying, victims are coming out and saying ‘I don’t want a lot of money. I just want to know why, and I want some answers and for someone to be held accountable.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, formerly St. Rose of Lima, 11 Center St., Forestville, was named in a suit filed by Boyd and Jeff Anderson and Associates, The victim, according to their attorneys, was reportedly subjected to sexual abuse by the Rev. John Kempczynski, a priest assigned to the parish, between 1971 and 1972. The victim was between 6 and 7 years old at the time of the abuse.

In Cattaraugus County, St. Mary of the Angels in Olean was named for abuse that is alleged to have occurred at the former Sacred Heart in Portville. The suit was brought by Boyd and Jeff Anderson and Associates.

From 1976 to 1977, the Rev. Duane Fimbel is alleged to have sexually abused a minor, who was 14 to 15 years old, at Sacred Heart.

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