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Diocese Must Release Priest's Records

Nov 1, 2002 | AP

A judge has ordered the Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese to release the personnel records of a priest accused of sexually abusing three young men in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

However, state Supreme Court Justice John W. Grow said church officials did not have to release information about other diocesan clergy.

The men's attorney, Frank Policelli, had requested personnel records of Monsignor Charles Sewall and a handful of other diocesan employees, as well as documents relating to what action the diocese took against Sewall after it received his clients' complaints.

The diocese was seeking a protective order that would have allowed them not to answer the demand.

Following a hearing Thursday, Grow gave the diocese 20 days to review the materials concerning the allegations against Sewall and then turn that material over to the priest's lawyer, Peter Hobaica, to review.

Hobaica also will have 20 days in which to consent to release the materials or to object to any part to the court. If Hobaica does file any objections, Grow said he would make a decision within 30 days.

Policelli would then receive the materials.

Hobaica said he could not comment on the information about Sewall in the documents.

"I don't know what those files contain and until I see the documents that are contained in the file. It's hard for me to make any determination as to what concerns I may or may not have," he said Friday.

Sewall, the diocese and Bishop James Moynihan were named in three separate $20 million civil suits brought in June by three men who claim Sewall sexually abused them while he was a teacher and principal at Utica's Notre Dame High School in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The lawsuits claim the diocese knew about the alleged abuse by Sewall and failed to stop it.

Only one of the plaintiffs, Lincoln Franchell, 40, of Remsen, has publicly identified himself. The other two victims are named as "John Doe" and "John Doe 2."

Sewall, 67, was a former vicar of the diocese eastern region and a much-beloved local clergyman who headed Utica's largest parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, for 12 years. He retired in 1997.

Sewall admitted in a written statement to sexual misconduct with an unidentified individual in the late 1970s. Sewall said he received counseling and the victim was given financial assistance as part of the settlement. Franchell has said he was the individual abused by Sewall and involved in the settlement.

Policelli said he requested the personnel documents of the other employees to reveal a pattern of behavior by priests and diocesan employees that was conducive to abuse.

"We believe we can show a policy of indifference and reckless disregard through these other records," he told Grow.

Two people named in Policelli's demand for personnel records were the Revs. Albert Proud and William Lorenz, who also have been accused of sexual misconduct.

In May, claims of abuse surfaced by two people who said they were once abused by Proud, 64, who served most recently as pastor of Annunciation Church in Clark Mills.

Lorenz, also 64, admitted to his parish at St. Joseph Church in Oneida in July to having a sexual relationship three decades ago with a 17-year-old girl while serving as a guidance counselor at the former Oswego Catholic High School.

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