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Ex-Utica Priest Faces Abuse Suit

Man claims Quinn sexually abused him in 1960s

May 8, 2003 | Utica Observer Dispatch An Oneida County man in his early 50s, who claims he was sexually abused by a former St. Agnes Church priest more than 30 years ago, filed a lawsuit Friday seeking $150 million.

The lawsuit names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, Bishop James M. Moynihan and the Rev. James F. Quinn, a former assistant pastor at St. Agnes from 1959 to 1971.

The action alleges Quinn had a controlling, obsessive and abusive relationship with one of his young parishioners over a seven-year period starting in 1963 when the boy was 12 years old.

The Observer-Dispatch does not publish the names of alleged sex-abuse victims.

In a statement released Wednesday, Quinn said the allegations are not true, and that he is "shocked" and "disappointed." He agreed to go on leave immediately, and will remain on leave "until he is exonerated," according to the statement.

"It was only last Friday that I was informed of this outlandish report," Quinn wrote. "I can tell you that I know the individual filing the lawsuit and I can also tell you, and let me emphasize this the allegations are completely false and utterly baseless."

Quinn, 68, served parts of his 45-year priesthood career as an assistant pastor at St. Paul's Church in Whitesboro and in St. Paul's Church in Rome. In 1994 he went to work as a vocation promoter in the diocese office, recruiting young people to a life of service for the Roman Catholic Church. He is director of the diocese Office of Vocation Promotion.

Diocese spokeswoman Danielle Cummings said she had not received a copy of the lawsuit or any allegations of misconduct against Quinn.

"He is completely denying these allegations," Cummings said. She said Quinn was so sure he would be exonerated that he made it a point to give a statement of his own when the news of the lawsuit surfaced Wednesday.

Emil Rossi, Quinn's attorney, said he is aware of the general allegations, and "Father Quinn flatly and unequivocally denies them all."

The lawsuit states Quinn tried to exert control over the young man, even switching him to different schools. The suit says Quinn frequently got the man drunk and sexually abused him, making him go to confession about the incidents afterward. The two even traveled together to Hawaii and South America, and on those trips Quinn was abusive as well, the lawsuit states.

Frank Policelli, the plaintiff's attorney, said his client is so emotionally and mentally damaged from the alleged abuse that he never has been able to maintain a relationship, never has been married and is haunted by the thought of Quinn.

"He can't get Quinn out of his head," Policelli said of the plaintiff. "He's a shell of the person he once was."

In addition, the papers state that when Quinn would take parish boys on regional trips, he would force the plaintiff to share a room with him while the other boys were allowed to have their own rooms. Quinn tried to blame the young man for their inappropriate relationship, and even tried to bribe him with clothes, cash, trips, alcohol and a car to keep him quiet, the lawsuit states.

Policelli said he has witnesses who can attest to Quinn and the plaintiff staying in the same hotel room.

This abuse by a "holy man and authority figure" over the course of the plaintiff's junior and senior high years led to a suicide attempt in high school, for which the plaintiff was hospitalized, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that the diocese knew of the abuse and did nothing, continuing to promote Quinn through its ranks.

Policelli said his client decided to come forward now partly because he was encouraged to do so by friends and family in light of allegations against other priests in the area and the rest of the country.

"You're talking about the '60s, when people always gave the priest the benefit of the doubt," Policelli said of the time the alleged abuse occurred. "The lay people who might have been suspicious never followed through on it."

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