Lawsuit claims man posing as priest abused patient at old Park Ridge Hospital

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GREECE, N.Y. – A former patient is suing Rochester Regional Health, claiming a hospital chaplain sexually abused him.

The civil lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Monroe County Superior Court, is against Rochester Regional Health. It owns Unity Hospital, which used to be Park Ridge.

The lawsuit blames the hospital system for exposing “vulnerable” patients like him to a “known sexual offender, pedophile, and ephebophile.”

The victim, who goes by “JVW 106 DOE” in the lawsuit, says the abuse started after he was admitted to the former Park Ridge Hospital following a second suicide attempt. He was 20.

At this time, News10NBC is not naming the chaplain because he was not criminally charged. The victim is being represented by Leander James and Melanie Wolk, who have represented several clients who have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester on behalf of victims abused by clergy.

“The patient hoped the hospital could help him on the road to recovery. Instead, the suit alleges, the hospital’s chaplain took advantage of the patient’s weakened state of mind and engaged in inappropriate behavior, which included the chaplain caressing the patient’s bare chest and ostensibly praying over him while he was in belted restraints in a hospital bed,” according to a press release from the attorneys.

The victim claims he was introduced to the chaplain while he was hospitalized. He believed he was an ordained priest because the chaplain wore the collar and was referred to as “Father.”

According to the lawsuit, the chaplain was never an ordained priest. The lawsuit claims the hospital should have confirmed whether he had a religious title. The lawsuit contains newspaper clippings announcing the chaplain’s appointment which don’t refer to him as a priest.

The chaplain “provided Plaintiff spiritual guidance and solicited Plaintiff to discuss topics that include his suicide attempts, sexuality, sexual behaviors, relationships, and other intimate details about his life while he remained at Park Ridge Hospital.”

According to the lawsuit, the victim and his family met with the chaplain, who encouraged them to have the victim stay with the chaplain “for further spiritual guidance, oversight and care.”

“Park Ridge Hospital had a system in place to facilitate handing patients off to” the chaplain, according to the lawsuit.

Soon after arriving at the chaplain’s home, the victim claims he was sexually abused both at his home and at his office at Park Ridge Hospital. According to the lawsuit, the victim lived with the chaplain for several years. Occasionally, they were visited by a nurse who worked at the hospital, according to the lawsuit.

Between 1988 and 1992, the victim claims the chaplain persuaded young men and boys to live at his home and “encouraged these young men and boys to shower with one another and have sexual relationships of their own.”

In 1992, when he was 23, the victim claims the abuse ended. He made a third suicide attempt.

“As a direct and proximate result of Defendant Hospital’s acts, omissions, breaches of duty, negligence, and recklessness, Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer great pain of mind and body, severe and permanent emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation, psychological injuries, loss of ability to engage in gainful activity, loss of income and other damages, past and future.”

According to the lawsuit, the hospital should have been aware of police reports documenting allegations of sexual abuse against three boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I think what this case really highlights is the critical importance or properly vetting and supervising chaplains and spiritual advisors in the context of the health care system,” said attorney Leander James.

Rochester Regional Health released this statement:

“Although Rochester Regional Health (“RRH”) does not publicly comment on pending litigation or patient matters, it takes all allegations of this nature seriously, whether they involve current or former patients, employees or visitors.”

“RRH is committed to the safety and welfare of the members of our community and, as such, has robust policies, procedures, training and education addressing sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination and to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

“RRH thoroughly investigates all allegations of abuse within our programs and facilities and makes the appropriate notifications to law enforcement and government authorities in compliance with mandatory reporting laws.”

“RRH has assigned counsel to investigate the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, which was served on September 22, 2023. The complaint was our first notice of these claims relating to conduct which is alleged to have occurred several decades ago.”