New York Diocese won’t be part of Vermont lawsuit
NEW YORK — A federal appeals court directed a lower court to dismiss the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, N.Y., from a Vermont sex-abuse lawsuit Friday.
The court sayid it did not have enough connection to Vermont to subject it to substantial confidentiality interests at stake in the litigation that would likely force the diocese to divulge sensitive documents about sexual abuse investigations.
The lawsuit was brought by a man who said he was abused by a former priest in Vermont in the late 1980s when the priest transported him from New York to Vermont to sexually abuse him.
Gary Mercure of Troy, N.Y., was sentenced in 2011 to 20 to 25 years in state prison after he was convicted of raping two altar boys in western Massachusetts between 1986 and 1989, while he was a priest in the Diocese of Albany. He was defrocked in 2008. Mercure had denied the allegations and his lawyers said the complainants were coached into making abuse claims.
In ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Diocese of Albany did not have enough ties to Vermont to subject the diocese to the lawsuit. The appeals panel noted that the diocese operates no office or facility in Vermont and its percentage of contacts with Vermont compared to its activities in New York are trivial.
It said the diocese served a total of 78 parishioners who lived in Vermont from 2002 through 2012, when six of the diocese’s more than 100 parishes were located near the Vermont border. The 2nd Circuit said those parishioners constituted 2.2 percent of the six parishes’ combined registered parishioners.
The appeals court said it was proper to dismiss the diocese as a defendant, noting “the irreparable harm caused by a needless foray into prior abuse allegations within the diocese, exposing victims and their families to grueling inquiries that would not be undertaken in the absence of the district court’s erroneous ruling.”
The appeals court said a lower court judge had issued an order requiring the diocese to disclose investigations of child sexual abuse involving the diocese’s employees, including the identifying names and addresses of investigators and summaries of the oral and written statements taken during the course of the investigation.
“There is no evidence that this information has previously been disclosed,” the appeals court wrote. “The cat is still in the bag, and the ensuing litigation will inevitably let it out.”
It said the claims brought in Vermont would not be allowed by New York state law because the statute of limitations would have precluded it.
An attorney for the man who brought the lawsuit did not immediately respond to a message.
In a statement, the Albany Diocese said the ruling “speaks for itself.”
“We would only wish to again stress that sexual abuse of a minor is a crime and an egregious sin, and that this Catholic community is deeply concerned about the well-being of anyone who has suffered abuse at any time or anywhere,” it said. “The Albany Diocese long ago embraced its moral obligation to assist individuals abused at any time by Albany Diocese clergy, and we again would welcome the opportunity to offer assistance in this case.”
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