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Suit Contends Church Compounds Abuse Cases

Jan 14, 2003 | AP Four people who say they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clergy are suing to overturn what they said is one diocese's new policy of interviewing alleged victims in trauma-inducing church offices surrounded by priests, stained glass and statues.

The unidentified plaintiffs said they attended meetings Jan. 3 at the Albany County Diocese Pastoral Center in Albany, an office building filled with paintings of clergy, religious statues, and staffed by priests and nuns. That triggered a reaction to memories of abuse that upset the three women and one man and left one in a psychiatric care facility for several days, contend their attorney, John Aretakis of New York City.

Aretakis, who said he represents a total of 20 clients in clergy abuse claims, said he prepared the lawsuit over the weekend and sent a letter Monday to the diocese protesting the location. He announced his suit to reporters Tuesday.

"We will try to make any arrangements which are more comfortable for the alleged victim and ease their situation," said the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, spokesman for the Albany diocese, which hadn't yet received the Aretakis' letter. Doyle said there has been no change in policy and the meetings for years have been in attorneys' offices or "quite frequently" in the pastoral center.

The diocese statement called the suit "the third fictitious and fundamentally frivolous lawsuit" by Aretakis in recent months. "The diocese will continue to treat victims with care and compassion through competent and professional personnel."

Aretakis said he didn't know where the "intake" sessions to present the new accusations against three more priests would be held until a couple hours before they began. Aretakis said that's because he was given a wrong number for the diocese' psychiatric social worker. He said he didn't ask the diocese's attorney, with whom he spoke several times in the days before the meeting, because the lawyer referred all questions about the intake sessions to the social worker.

Aretakis said his clients either agreed to continue the sessions despite initial reactions to the building or the sessions ended early because of the reactions. But the distraught victims want to make sure they don't return to the pastoral center.

Holding the meetings at the center "was a negligent, careless, insensitive and wanton manner directed at or towards victims of clergy sexual abuse," the suit claims. The suit further accuses the diocese social worker of a "lack of care and ability, and her disregard and insensitivity for victims."

Aretakis said he could "rescind" part of the lawsuit if the diocese agrees to change the site of the intake meetings, but that his underlying suit seeking damages from sexual abuse would continue.

Albany Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop Howard Hubbard removed six priests in June in abuse cases. Investigators are conducting inquiries into whether new allegations of sexual abuse are "credible" and warrant the priests being suspended from their duties. Hubbard said he supports the "zero-tolerance" policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after a national scandal. The policy calls for any priest facing a credible allegation to be removed from ministry pending the determination of guilt or innocence by a church tribunal.

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