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Ex-Priest Faces Sex-Abuse Suit

Nov 20, 2002 | The Journal News

A former Roman Catholic priest who served until recently as the spiritual director of a Dobbs Ferry residential treatment center has been accused in legal papers of sexually molesting a teenage parishioner 26 years ago.

Lawyers for a 42-year-old upstate man are asking for a settlement of up to $2 million from each party or they will sue the Albany Diocese, the Archdiocese of Boston and Dozia Wilson, who was stripped of his duties as a priest in 1990. The man claims Wilson molested him at the Boston church where they lived after the priest was transferred from Albany in 1976 because of an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Church officials in both cities had no immediate comment about the claim, and a lawyer who has represented Wilson declined to discuss the case.

Wilson, 57, stepped down as director of spiritual services at St. Christopher's in Dobbs Ferry last month, although officials there are not discussing the reason for his departure or whether he was forced out.

The allegation of decades-old abuse is the latest in the continuing ordeal that has rocked the Catholic church. And while the scandal-plagued Boston Archdiocese is named, the legal papers suggest that the Diocese of Albany is most to blame because it was aware of a prior accusation against Wilson. According to the complaint, the bishop told the victim this year that the Albany district attorney agreed not to prosecute Wilson in 1976 if he was transferred out of the parish.

The since-retired prosecutor, Sol Greenberg, who was just beginning a 25-year career at the time, confirmed most of the account yesterday. He recalled a meeting with Wilson and then-Bishop Edwin Broderick at which the priest was ordered never to return to an Albany parish. Wilson had been accused of having sexual contact with two boys at a motel, Greenberg said, and their parents and the diocese did not want to prosecute.

"I remember him saying, 'Never is a long time,' " Greenberg said of Wilson. "It was a matter of keeping it quiet. At that time it was the attitude about these things. Today we would have gotten those kids in front of a grand jury."

The priest never returned, but took a position a decade later at the diocese's St. Mary's Church in Hudson, where he also served as a police chaplain. He was removed from active ministry in October 1990 and voluntarily resigned his priesthood three years later, but a spokesman for the Diocese of Albany would not discuss the disciplinary action. The spokes-man, Ken Goldfarb, would not comment on the claim from the 1970s except to say that the diocese "challenges the characterizations and assertions" made by the man's lawyers.

Wilson did not return telephone messages. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston said she was unfamiliar with the case and could not immediately comment.

Wilson joined St. Christopher's, a support agency and residential school for troubled children, in 1993, the same year he left the priesthood. He ran a volunteer program and helped reconnect families of students and staff to their faiths. Executive Director Luis Medina said it was well-known on campus that Wilson was an ordained priest, although his work at St. Christopher's was nondenominational and did not involve Catholic rites. Medina would not say whether he knew Wilson had been disciplined in Albany or when he learned Wilson was no longer a priest.

He said there were no allegations of misconduct against Wilson involving anyone from St. Christopher's, and that background checks showed no problems.

"There were no red flags waved in terms of any prior history," Medina said. "While he was here, he performed his job in a very positive manner. He ran a very good program."

Wilson was ordained a priest in the Albany Diocese in 1972 and was pastor of Sacred Heart Church when he met the boy there the following year. The complaint alleges that Wilson began giving the boy alcohol and marijuana in 1973, took him on trips and got him enrolled at a private school in 1975 when the teenager had lost his scholarship at another school.

In the summer of 1976, Wilson took the boy and his younger brother along when he transferred to St. Joseph's Church in Roxbury, Mass. The boy claims that Wilson began sexually molesting him that summer and that the abuse continued until he graduated from high school two years later and moved out of the rectory.

According to the legal papers, it was not until he sought therapy in 1997 that the plaintiff connected his alcohol, employment and relationship problems to his interaction with Wilson. That year, he informed both dioceses of the alleged abuse. The Albany Diocese paid for some of his counseling. Officials in Boston promised an investigation, according to the complaint, but he never heard from them again.

The plaintiff said he met with Bishop Howard Hubbard in Albany eight months ago and was told for the first time that Wilson had been accused of sexual misconduct in 1975, the year before he moved to Boston. He claimed Hubbard also told him about Greenberg's willingness not to prosecute the case.

Goldfarb, the spokesman for the Albany diocese, declined to confirm the meeting with Hubbard or discuss any of the comments that were attributed to the bishop.

A Boston lawyer representing the alleged victim said he would not comment further until church officials had an opportunity to respond to his request for a settlement. The lawyer, A. Bernard Guekguezian, said his client was not ready to publicly discuss Wilson or his experiences. In his letter to Hubbard, the lawyer called an $8,500 offer from the church "wholly unacceptable."

The threatened lawsuit would be filed in Boston. The plaintiff's lawyers acknowledge Massachusetts' three-year statute of limitations on child sex assault claims in civil cases, but argue that the intervening years should not be counted against their client because he continuously experiences new ways in which Wilson's behavior affected him. They also suggest that it was not until this year's meeting with Hubbard that he learned Albany church officials were aware of Wilson's reputation when they allowed him to get a parish job in Boston.

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