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Woman Claims Clergy Abuse

Alleged victim says diocese paid her to keep silent

Mar 28, 2003 | Albany Times Union

A woman from Schaghticoke said the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese paid her $100,000 in 1999 as part of an agreement that prohibited her from speaking publicly about her alleged sexual abuse by a priest when she was a young mother 19 years ago.

The woman said she was a mother of three children struggling through a rocky time in her marriage when a priest at a Mechanicville parish in 1984 "infiltrated" her family and forced her to have sex about 20 times. For years, she believed the priest had fathered one of her daughters, she said on Thursday.

The woman who asked that only her first name, Donna, be used said Bishop Howard Hubbard and the diocese's attorney, Michael Costello, arranged for the 1999 payment after she threatened to hire a lawyer or speak out publicly about the priest's alleged misconduct.

"That was their way of getting me to sign a confidentiality agreement," said Donna, speaking alongside her attorney, John Aretakis, at a meeting with six local reporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. She said she wanted to speak to the press despite her legal agreement not to because "people have to know the truth."

The diocese released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the woman had "asked for and received compensation." The statement did not address her allegations of forcible sex and described her as "an adult in her 30s who engaged in a sexual relationship."

Donna, 51, said she remains married to her husband, whom she told about the abuse soon after it occurred. For 18 years, the couple thought the priest was the father of their youngest daughter, until a DNA test several weeks ago confirmed her husband's paternity, she said.

Donna's story is the first account of the Albany Diocese paying money to block the airing of sexual misconduct by a priest with an adult woman. The diocese has said it paid more than $2.3 million to people abused as children.

Donna is one of many women across the nation coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against priests. Experts say it is not surprising that women victimized as adults are stepping forward now that clergy sexual abuse of children has come to light.

"It's like pulling a thread on a knitted sweater," said A.W. Richard Sipe of La Jolla, Calif., a psychotherapist and former priest who has written books on celibacy and the priesthood.

"Once you start asking questions about priests dedicated to celibacy having sexual activity with minors, you say what else can they have?" Sipe said.

An estimated 25 percent of clergy become involved with women, compared with about 6 percent who have sex with children, according to Sipe's extensive survey of priests' sexual behavior between 1960 and 1985.

Donna said Hubbard met with her more than a dozen times between 1993 and August 2002. Their relationship soured after she learned about Hubbard's reassignment of known pedophile priests to other ministries, she said.

Her alleged abuser is an Augustinian priest meaning he was ordained in the Augustinian order and assigned to the Albany Diocese temporarily. He currently is posted at a parish in Florida and is no longer under Hubbard's supervision.

The Times Union is withholding his name because the allegations could not be confirmed.

The Rev. Tony Burrascano, who worked at the Mechanicville parish at the time of Donna's alleged abuse, returned a call placed Thursday to the Augustinians' provincial headquarters in Philadelphia, where he works as an administrator.

Burrascano said any records of Donna's formal complaint or payments would be on file at the Albany Diocese. The Albany Diocese said the Augustianians also paid Donna some money.

After she first contacted the diocese, Hubbard directed her to an Albany psychologist, John Wapner, and later to a church-employed social worker, Sister Anne Bryan Smollin.

Aretakis said he is preparing a lawsuit concerning Donna's care under Smollin, whom he has already named in another lawsuit that alleges she used her role as a counselor to manipulate a victim of sexual abuse.

"I don't think what she did was real therapy, I think she gathered information and tried to influence me," Donna said, referring to Smollin.

Donna said she was angered earlier this month when Hubbard told the church-run newspaper, The Evangelist, that he never sat in on a victim's therapy sessions. She said Hubbard attended two of her meetings with a psychologist in 1994 and 1995.

Hearing the bishop deny the role he played in her therapy "makes me feel like he wants to erase me from the face of the earth," she said.

"Bishop Hubbard met with the woman on several occasions," the diocese said Thursday. "At her request, and as part of the healing process, he did meet with her and her counselor, but these were not situations where he was sitting in on this person's individual therapy."

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