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Claim Against Diocese Expected To Go To Trial

Suit accuses priest of trying to prevent a complaint of sex abuse

Apr 10, 2003 | Albany Times Union

The first lawsuit involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and a man who was sexually abused decades ago by a priest is expected to go to trial this year in state Supreme Court, a judge said Wednesday.

"These matters have been pending too long, and I'm going to move them forward," said Acting Supreme Court Justice Christian Hummel during a conference with attorneys.

Sworn statements from people involved in the case potentially including Bishop Howard Hubbard should be completed by August, with the trial starting "before the end of the calendar year," Hummel said.

The lawsuit, filed in October by an unnamed man who now works for the State Police, seeks $450,000 from the Rev. John Bertolucci, who allegedly molested him, and the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, the diocesan chancellor.

The victim and his parents accused the two priests of conspiring to intimidate them in an effort to prevent him from coming forward to file a sexual-abuse complaint with the diocese last year, the lawsuit said.

In court on Wednesday, the church's legal team included a new member, Scott Fein, a partner at Albany's largest law firm, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna. Fein will represent Teresa Rodrigues, diocesan victims' assistance coordinator who was named in another lawsuit also pending before Hummel.

The conference was the first meeting between the church attorneys and Hummel. He is the third Capital Region judge assigned to cases involving the diocese and five alleged victims represented by attorney John Aretakis.

Last month, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi removed himself amid questions about his confidential communications with the diocese's primary attorney, Michael Costello of the Tobin & Dempf firm.

Hummel indicated less concern about public statements and press coverage of the cases than Teresi, who had issued a sweeping order for attorneys to rein in remarks that could sway opinions of potential jurors.

"There is no gag order in this case," Hummel said, adding that both church officials and victims of sexual abuse are "free to talk to anyone."

Hummel reminded the attorneys that they are bound by disciplinary conduct rules. Those rules prohibit lawyers from expressing "any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, the evidence, or the merits of the case."

Doyle, who is both a lawyer and the diocese's chief spokesman, is also bound by the disciplinary rules, Hummel said.

In October, Doyle issued a public statement calling the lawsuit "pure fiction."

The judge alluded to the undisclosed or ex parte conversation between Teresi and Costello.

"You gentlemen are all experienced attorneys. Obviously, no one is to communicate with the court in any ex parte manner," Hummel said.

Hummel is considering the diocese's motion to dismiss two other lawsuits, which also allege that church officials tried to manipulate and intimidate victims to prevent them from coming forward with complaints. Rodrigues is a defendant in one of the suits.

No motion was made to dismiss the case against Bertolucci, who is accused of sexually abusing the man when he was a young teenager several times between 1976 and 1979. Bertolucci was a parish priest at St. Joseph's Church in Little Falls at the time. Last June, Hubbard removed Bertolucci and five other priests from active ministry for known instances of child sex abuse.

The lawsuit against Bertolucci does not seek damages for the sexual abuse itself, which is out of reach from civil penalties under the state's three-year statute of limitations.

Instead, the case focuses on Sept. 11, 2002, when Bertolucci allegedly called the man's parents, who are still active church members, and asked them to speak to their son to stop him from coming forward, according to the lawsuit.

"I did not have sexual intercourse with your son, I only fondled him," Bertolucci allegedly said, according to the lawsuit. "I was very proud of your son, the way he repeatedly fought off my sexual advances most of the time. I want you to know that I still love your son after all these years."

The lawsuit alleges that Doyle called Bertolucci at his Catskill home to tell him about the man's upcoming meeting with the church attorney and encouraged the priest to call the parents.

Aretakis is seeking to add Hubbard as a defendant in the case.

Costello is representing Doyle. Albany attorney James Potter of the law firm of Hinman Straub is representing Bertolucci.

Attorneys are still waiting for the Appellate Division to rule on Aretakis' motion to move the case to a court in New York City.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara of Albany recused himself from the case involving Bertolucci in January, citing an unspecified conflict of interest.

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