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Fifth Lawsuit Filed Against Former Owego Priest

Jan 15, 2003 | Towanda Daily Review

Another former altar boy has filed suit in Tioga County, N.Y., Court against his former church, alleging that he was sexually abused by an ordained Roman Catholic priest who was connected to the church.

The lawsuit the fifth to be filed in Tioga County Court has been filed against the Holy See, which is the state of Vatican City; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.; Matthew H. Clark, the bishop of Rochester; and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church of Owego.
All five of the individuals who have filed the lawsuits are alleging that they were sexually abused by the Rev. Albert Cason between 1974 and 1977 or 1978.

Cason, who is named as a co-defendant in one of the suits, was a co-pastor at St. Patrick's Church from 1973 to 1985.

One of the individuals who have filed suit against the church has also claimed that he was sexually abused in 1979 by Robert Hammond, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who was director of the Catholic youth summer program at St. Patrick's Church at that time.

The five individuals - the names of whom were not included in the lawsuits because they were minors at the time that the incidents allegedly occurred - are all being represented by Binghamton, N.Y., attorney Ronald Benjamin.
Benjamin told The Review that he has filed a number of lawsuits in this case in Monroe County, N.Y., court; Broome County, N.Y., court; and U.S. District court in New York.

"More lawsuits are going to be filed," he said.
The individuals who have filed suit in Tioga County, N.Y., are seeking a combined $114 million in compensatory and exemplary damages from the Holy See; St. Patrick's Church, Cason; the Diocese of Rochester; and Bishop Clark.
The diocese removed Cason from the ministry in 1985 for sexual misconduct, but no criminal charges were filed.

Michael Tedesco, director of communications for the Diocese of Rochester, noted that the diocese will make no comment on this issue because it involves pending litigation.

Tedesco added that Hammond is still an ordained priest with the diocese, but he "is currently without assignment at any church."

The lawsuits all allege that prior to Cason's being transferred to St. Patrick's Church, the Holy See, the Diocese of Rochester and Bishop Clark were all aware that Cason and Hammond "engaged in inappropriate criminal sexual behavior."

The transferring of Cason to St. Patrick's Church and the retaining of Hammond was "part and parcel of a conspiracy by the defendant and related entities to intentionally, recklessly and negligently conceal the criminal conduct of its agents and employees including, but not limited to, the failing to report criminal conduct of its agents and/or servants, including priests, allowing and aiding them to evade criminal and/or civil prosecution and liability, as well as concealing (the) defendant's own culpability for the conduct contained (within the lawsuits)," the suits allege.

The individuals who were preteens or early teen-agers at the time of the alleged incidents - claim in their lawsuits that the abuse by Cason and Hammond led them to leave the church and to abuse drugs and alcohol.

The plaintiff in the latest lawsuit filed claimed within the document that the abuse by Cason led him to have "substantial doubts about his masculinity" and to have "suffered profound spiritual loss with a sense of no one to turn to as well as a pervasive and debilitating emotional impact that lingers to this day."
While the individuals are looking for monetary damages in these cases, Benjamin noted that his clients are seeking institutional reforms from the church that are meaningful.

"The Vatican needs to be held accountable," said Benjamin.

He noted that while there has been some reform started, that reform has been "squashed" by the Vatican.

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