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OGDENSBURG — The Diocese of Ogdensburg has been named as a defendant in a child sex abuse lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court late last week.

The plaintiff, identified in court documents as LG 83 DOE, filed suit Feb. 17 in state Supreme Court in St. Lawrence County against the diocese and St. John the Baptist Church in Keeseville, which is a hamlet that straddles the border of Clinton and Essex counties.

The plaintiff is a resident of New York state and was born in 1963.

In the suit, it’s alleged that Monsignor Thomas J. Robillard, who is now dead, committed acts of sexual assault, battery, rape and more against the plaintiff. The alleged acts happened between the years of 1970 and 1973 at the Keeseville church.

Monsignor Robillard, an Ogdensburg native, served at various other churches in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties throughout his career with the diocese. He retired in 1993 and resided in Norfolk until his death.

Monsignor Robillard died at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in March 2009. He was 91 years old.

It’s alleged in the complaint that the defendants “knew or reasonably should have known” of Monsignor Robillard’s propensities to commit the claimed acts of sexual assault. The complaint also states the defendants were aware that “a number” of its employees were sexually abusing, sexually assaulting, molesting or raping children.

In January 2019, the diocese released a list of 30 priests believed to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. Of those 30, 18 were dead as of the list’s release two years ago. The 12 priests alive at the time were removed from ministry as a result of the allegations, or left ministry prior to the alleged misconduct findings.

Monsignor Robillard was not on the list.

The complaint alleges the “negligence, carelessness and recklessness” of the defendants are to blame for the alleged crimes committed upon the plaintiff.

It’s further alleged that the defendants had a duty to report reasonable suspicion of sexual assault or abuse of children in its care to the police or other government agencies, which it did not do. The defendants also allegedly did not disclose to the child or child’s parents the danger of sexual assault its priests posed to children.

The suit is brought upon by the state’s Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases. The act, passed in 2019, gives survivors a one-year window to file claims of abuse that had previously exceeded the statute of limitations. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended the act for a second time on May 27, 2020, giving survivors until Aug. 13 of this year to file claims.

This is not the first time the diocese has been taken to court under the Child Victims Act. Since the act’s passing, the diocese has been named as a defendant in a number of alleged sexual abuse lawsuits.

The diocese comprises the entirety of Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties.

The suit doesn’t specify an amount being sought in damages.

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Assistant Managing Editor

In her role as assistant managing editor, Sydney manages the photo department, social media accounts and NNY360.com. She also covers the city of Ogdensburg, as well as the state and federal court systems.

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(1) comment

zeitgeist

For decades, virtually every diocese in the country followed the same cover up-playbook. The allegations in the St. Lawrence county complaint are in sync with the allegations made in other complaints against the diocese, and in complaints against virtually every diocese in the country.

How, exactly, the Diocese of Ogdensburg followed the cover up-playbook for decades-- the players, the details, the evidence-- should come to light when AG Letitia James releases her report on her investigation into the diocese. Should complaints filed under the Child Victims Act go to trial, they, too, should shed evidential light on the diocese's cover up, although more and more dioceses are filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid trials that expose cover up evidence. (This tactic is being met with some resistance. Attorneys for victims are appealing to bankruptcy judges, requesting that they force dioceses to release documents and files that expose cover up evidence.)

While we wait for cover up evidence in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, read the complaint filed last November by AG Letitia James against the Diocese of Buffalo and Bishops Richard Malone, Edward Grosz and Edward Scharfenberger. In reading it, notice how all of the allegations made in the complaint filed in St. Lawrence county against the Diocese of Ogdensburg are evidenced in the complaint filed by Letitia James against the Diocese of Buffalo. In other words, if you want to know how the Diocese of Ogdensburg covered up sexual abuse, read, in detail, how the Diocese of Buffalo covered it up.

In reading Letitia James' complaint against the Diocese of Buffalo, notice how a name familiar to folks in the Diocese of Ogdensburg appears over and over. The complaint is riddled with examples of his inept handling of sexual abuse allegations. Notice how, despite his ineptness, the Buffalo diocese elevated him to vice-chancellor, then to chancellor, and, finally, to vicar general.

Where did he go from there?

He came here. Despite his ineptness, he was elevated to bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.

The link to Letitia James' complaint:

assets.documentcloud.org/documents/20415889/ag-report-on-buffalo-diocese.pdf

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