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Abuse victims hope lawsuits help prevent future abuse

August 14, 2019 08:39 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — People who claimed to be victims of sexual abuse as children looked forward with resolution, and hope, to the prospect of taking their accusations to court.

“I want to be able to sit there, look at him, and just look into his eyes,” declared Brian DeLaFranier.

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In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, DeLaFranier lived just a few doors from Saint Andrews Church in Rochester, and that’s where he said the parish priest, Father Robert Gaudio, sexually abused him at the age of 14 after a period of careful grooming.  

“It started off innocently as the priest befriending me,” he recalled.

On Wednesday, DeLaFranier filed a formal lawsuit over what happened. Under New York’s new Child Victims Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, a one-year “look back” window opened on August 14, effectively suspending the statute of limitations for abuse lawsuits for one year, regardless of how long ago the abuse took place.

In the Rochester area, almost 40 lawsuits were filed against the Rochester Catholic diocese, schools, and religious orders as well as the Webster public school district. 

Many of the dozens of plaintiffs who filed the lawsuits say they hoped for a new start after the trauma that derailed their lives for years.

“I want to feel whole. I want my life to get back on track,” said DeLaFranier. “I could have wound up in jail for the thoughts I had of what I wanted to do to this individual… Yes, violence. Very much so.”

Peter Saracino brought similar passion to a 1990s phone conversation with the priest he accused of sexually abusing him at what was then the Immaculate Heart of Mary Capuchin Seminary in Geneva in the 1960s.

“I said 'do they know you're a murderer of souls?’” he recalled asking only to get a reply of silence.

On Wednesday, he too filed suit, seeking justice for “this heinous evil visited upon my young spirit by a Catholic priest, an evil which has profoundly affected the course of my life in so many negative ways.”

The trip to court, and into the public eye, was one some accusers made reluctantly, but some saw as an opportunity to do good.

"I was so ashamed that my innocence had been taken and I didn't tell anybody for a long long time,” said Kevin Higley, formerly of Scottsville.

Higley was 14 in the 1980s when he said Father Paul Cloonan abused him at what was then Saint Mary of the Assumption Church. For years, he told no one but his girlfriend Natalie, now his wife, who he described as his "rock."

Cloonan was defrocked in 2005 and died in 2015, but Higley’s lawyers suspected he had a long history as a predator. Another accuser reported sexual misconduct by Cloonan in the 1950s and attorneys professed a theory that he had numerous other victims from the decades between that era and the abuse reported by Higley.

With the filing of his lawsuit, Higley sought to encourage other victims to come forward and prevent young people from becoming victimized in the future.

“I decided to use my voice to make people aware,” Higley said. “I’ve had different avenues, which I believe is God speaking to me, telling me that I need to speak up for the children. I need to save the children.”

Credits

Charles Molineaux

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