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High School Principal Files Sex-Abuse Complaint

Dec 12, 2002 | Trenton Times

The former principal of McCorristin Catholic High School in Hamilton was sexually assaulted by a member of a Catholic order while he was a student at a junior seminary school more than 30 years ago, according to a civil complaint he and several other former students have filed in New York.

Joseph Lemme, who is now 45, was allegedly kicked out of the Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, N.Y., after he reported sexual assaults that allegedly lasted most of his three years at the school, the legal papers state.

Lemme, who is now principal of Holy Cross High School in Delran, and three other former seminary students filed a civil complaint on Sept. 5 against the order, the accused teacher and other members of the order who they say knew about the alleged abuses but did nothing to stop them.

The four men are seeking unspecified damages in the case.

Attempts to reach Lemme, who lives in Monmouth County, were unsuccessful yesterday. Lemme's attorney, Marcia Goffin, said Lemme had no comment.

But Lemme described the alleged assaults in an extensive affidavit Goffin supplied to The Times.

Lemme claims he was sexually abused and assaulted by George Puello, a Spanish and theater instructor, on an almost "nightly" basis when he was a freshman at the school, which is now closed.

Puello left the school before Lemme's sophomore year, but he allegedly took Lemme out to dinner and the theater more than 10 times and continued to sexually abuse him at local hotels, according to the affidavit.

"Administrators of the school were aware that Puello was taking me out of the school; their permission was required for me to leave the campus," Lemme said in the affidavit.

Lemme also reported the abuse to several members of the order, the civil complaint states.

The Rev. Emil Allue, who was the seminary's director and is now an auxiliary bishop in Boston, asked Lemme to leave the seminary in his junior year after he was informed of Lemme's complaint, according to the affidavit.

Lemme claims Allue told him he was not "priest material."

"I literally begged Allue to allow me to stay at the seminary, but he just kept shaking his head and saying that I should leave," Lemme said in the affidavit.

"I recognize now that removing me from the seminary was an intentional act that would ensure that the assaults on me would not be investigated."

Allue did not immediately return messages left at his office yesterday.

Goffin said Lemme and the other former students decided to file the case after they heard about another sexual abuse case brought against the priest who recruited them to attend the seminary school.

"The reason to come forward was to protect anybody else," Goffin said. "We are aware there were others who were also assaulted but who have not come forward as plaintiffs."

Goffin, who works for the Gould, Fishbein, Reimer, Gottfried law firm in Manhattan, said her client has suffered long-term damage from the assaults and even left the Catholic religion for several years at one point.

Goffin said Lemme doesn't believe his case poses a conflict with his current job for the Diocese of Trenton.

"As (Lemme) regularly says to us, `I am not suing the Diocese of Trenton. I am not suing the Catholic Church. My position is in regard to this order,' " Goffin said.

Steven Emery, spokesman for the Diocese of Trenton, said Lemme told Bishop John Smith and Superintendent Judith Caviston about the case earlier this year and they don't believe it poses any conflict with his job as principal.

"They were made aware of this situation by Mr. Lemme months ago and are supportive of him" Emery said. "It's a personal private issue unrelated to his position as principal of Holy Cross High School."

Puello left the order, and he could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Richard Beran, who represents the order and the current members of the order named in the complaint, said he would not comment on the allegations.

Beran maintains the statute of limitations ran out on the case many years ago and filed a motion to have the case dismissed.

"It's our position they don't have a claim," said Beran of the McCarter & English law firm in Newark. "The statute of limitations is three years under New York law."

Goffin said the law allows for a case to be pursued after the statute of limitations expires if there were any attempts to hide the alleged abuse, which Goffin says happened in this case.

"It appears to us there have been affirmative acts on the part of the defendants to keep this action from getting to the public," Goffin said.

A judge in Westchester County, N.Y., will make the final ruling on whether the case can proceed. The order's headquarters is based in Westchester County.

Beran said the Westchester District Attorney's Office contacted him regarding potential criminal charges in this case.

"My understanding is the Westchester District Attorney's Office is investigating the allegations," Beran said. "I have not heard back from them one way or the other."

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