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Albany Diocese Settles Abuse Claim

Sep 12, 2003 | Albany Times Union

The Albany Diocese has paid $500,000 to a Capital Region man who said a priest molested him in the 1970s, settling a lawsuit with the largest single payment since the 20-month-old clergy sex-abuse scandal began, church officials said Thursday.

The lawsuit filed in Massachusetts targeted church officials' handling of the Rev. Dozia Wilson, who was reassigned to several parishes despite repeated complaints about his conduct with children. Wilson left the priesthood in 1993.

"To us this was an absolute acknowledgment of wrongdoing, not just by Dozia Wilson, but by the diocese," said Bernard Guekguezian, the Boston-based attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the victim, who is now 42. "This abuse occurred really because many people in the church hierarchy turned a blind eye."

Wilson befriended the teenager from a troubled home in the mid-1970s while serving at Albany's Sacred Heart Church. When Wilson later transferred to Boston, he took the teenager with him and became the boy's guardian. The priest molested him repeatedly while they lived together in a Roxbury, Mass., parish, according to the lawsuit.

The Albany Diocese did not notify Wilson's supervisors in Boston about the priest's previously reported misconduct with children, a failure the lawsuit said contributed to the boy's abuse.

Since the abuse occurred in Boston, the man filed his lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court, where laws and judges have been more favorable to victims than those in New York.

"Given the circumstances of this particular case and the civil law regarding sexual abuse claims in Massachusetts, we believe this settlement is fair to the victim and to the diocese," Bishop Howard Hubbard said in a statement Thursday.

The settlement was reached in August, but the diocese did not disclose it until Thursday, after an inquiry from the Times Union.

The diocese has previously acknowledged paying out about $2.5 million to settle sexual abuse complaints during the past 25 years, including a nearly $1 million payment to a victim in 1997.

Wilson was forced to leave the Albany parish in 1976 after some parents complained to the Albany County district attorney about an incident involving Wilson and young boys at an Albany motel.

Instead of prosecuting the case, the district attorney at that time, Sol Greenberg, made a deal with then-Bishop Edwin Broderick that the case would be dropped if Wilson left the Capital Region, Broderick and Greenberg told the Times Union in February.

Parishioners in Boston soon began to complain about Wilson's relationship with young boys, and supervisors at the Boston Archdiocese tried to get Wilson to leave, according to Wilson's 280-page personnel file released under a Massachusetts court order in February.

Wilson's file was released in Boston amid a flood of documents the archdiocese was ordered to turn over at the height of the scandal.

A Feb. 14 statement from the Albany Diocese read: "From 1976 until 1990, the Albany Diocese received no reports of misconduct on Wilson's part." The church documents released several weeks later indicate Hubbard knew about Wilson's complaints in Boston.

In May 1979, a high-ranking Boston church official said in a memo that the "Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard phones this morning and informed me that he had spoken with Rev. Dozia J. Wilson and has assured that father will not be back in Boston," church documents show.

Hubbard reassigned Wilson in the Albany Diocese in 1980, where the priest served for 10 more years, at St. Ann's in Fort Ann and St. Mary's in Hudson. He was also a part-time chaplain at the Columbia County jail.

In 1990 Hubbard said he received a complaint from the Hudson area from a caller "expressing unease about Wilson's interaction with minors," and the bishop removed Wilson from his post. Wilson left the priesthood entirely in 1993, the same year the diocese enacted formal guidelines for handling complaints of sexual abuse.

Wilson, who now lives in Westchester County, has repeatedly declined to speak to the Times Union. Following publicity last year, Wilson lost his job at a home for troubled youths in Dobbs Ferry.

The man who filed the lawsuit this year first contacted the Albany Diocese in 1997, when he began receiving church-paid counseling. The man initially asked for a $2 million settlement before filing the lawsuit in Massachusetts. After mediation sessions with an attorney for the Albany Diocese, Michael Costello, the man accepted the settlement.

The settlement was unrelated to this week's record $85 million agreement between the Archdiocese of Boston and lawyers for more than 500 people who say Boston priests molested them.

In an unrelated case, the diocese said it reached an agreement with a victim of sexual abuse. Curtis Oathout, who had sued a church therapist for misrepresenting her credentials, agreed to drop his lawsuit. Oathout could not be reached for comment.

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