PLATTSBURGH — A Minnesota-based firm on Tuesday launched a database it hopes will aid child abuse survivors, law enforcement and fellow attorneys in their efforts to seek justice from the Catholic Church in New York state.
The virtual event hosted by Jeff Anderson & Associates featured a breakdown of statistics for all Catholic dioceses in the state, including the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which spans the North Country.
Anderson said the purpose of the report was, in part, “to identify those institutions and Catholic bishops across this country who have been complicit in allowing children to have been abused and to do what we can with each survivor, one at a time, to make sure that we are doing something today to protect kids tomorrow.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow more survivors to come forward, the legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that extended the window to file claims under the Child Victims Act, regardless of when the abuse occurred, by one year to Aug. 14, 2021.
According to Anderson, 2,801 civil complaints alleging childhood sexual abuse involving the Catholic Church in New York State were filed between Aug, 13. 2019 and Dec. 31, 2020. His Minnesota-based firm’s analysts combed through those filings to create the database, which provides summary data for each diocese and allows alleged perpetrators to be searched by name.
“There is no question, based on the data that we have assembled, the survivors that have come forward so far, that this is still a fraction of those that will (come forward),” Anderson said.
The database can be accessed at tinyurl.com/ykcase7t.
80 in Ogdensburg diocese
According to the database, 80 complaints filed have involved the Diocese of Ogdensburg.
Almost 40 alleged perpetrators have been identified, the vast majority of whom are categorized as priests. There are also two brothers and one layperson.
Anderson said those with the highest number of accusations made against them were Fr. John Fallon, Fr. Liam O’Doherty, Fr. Emile LaLonde, Fr. Edward Franklin and Fr. Albert Plante.
Fallon and O’Doherty were named in eight lawsuits, LaLonde in six and Franklin and Plante in four.
The institutions most frequently identified in the filings were the Church of Holy Angels in Altona, named in six, and St. Ann’s Church in St. Regis Falls, in four, according to Anderson’s presentation.
One current priest
The Rev. Donald J. Manfred is the only person named as an alleged perpetrator in Anderson’s presentation who is listed in the priest directory on the Diocese of Ogdensburg’s website. He is the current pastor of St. Stephen’s Church in Croghan and St. Francis Solanus Church in Harrisville.
According to the law firm’s database, he is identified in one lawsuit based on alleged abuse in 1971.
The Press-Republican asked Diocese of Ogdensburg Communications Director Darcy Fargo if the accusation will affect Manfred’s status and how the diocese will proceed.
“I can’t speak to specific cases or the status of specific individuals, as we don’t comment on pending litigation,” Fargo said. “Per diocesan policy, if a priest is found to be credibly accused of misconduct, he is removed from ministry.”
Echoing prior statements, Fargo said that, to her knowledge, the diocese has not had a credible accusation of abuse in more than 20 years.
Bankruptcy an option
So far, four of the Catholic dioceses in New York state have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to respond to Child Victims Act claims.
Anderson posited they have used this strategy “as a shield and thus a sword to protect themselves from having their secrets disclosed and to avoid a true reckoning.”
In every case his firm has brought and will bring, he said, they will require and seek a full disclosure of all files maintained in the diocese pertaining to the individual offenders, and the patterns and practices employed by bishops past and present.
“Part of civil litigation and the power of a civil suit is it can compel the wrongdoer — and in these cases the Catholic diocese and the current bishops and the top officials — to have to come clean with all the secrets they have held and all the documents they have concealed for so long under their very dangerous and perilous practices and adherence to secrecy,” Anderson said.
Fargo said the Diocese of Ogdensburg has not yet made a decision about filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“Working with our team of professional advisors, we continue to evaluate all available options to address the lawsuits and continue the mission of the diocese,” she said.
“Chapter 11 reorganization has proven to be a positive way for other Catholic dioceses to address victim claims in the most fair and equitable manner possible, while maintaining vital ministries. For this reason, it is one of the options being considered by our diocese.”