Twenty-two plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Aug. 14 against the Diocese of Buffalo, a province of the Society of Jesus, multiple priests, eight parishes, three high schools, a seminary, among others, alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.
The lawsuit was filed on the first day of a legal “window” allowing for sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed in New York even after their civil statute of limitations had expired.
Among the plaintiffs, who are not named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests, and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care towards children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.
The suit says that priests named in the lawsuit, “used their positions of authority and trust over Plaintiff(s) to sexually abuse and injure them.”
“All the Defendant(s) knew and/or reasonably should have known, and/or knowingly condoned, and/or covered up, the inappropriate and unlawful criminal conduct activities” of sexually abusing priests, the lawsuit says.
Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleged “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.
The suit claims that the various diocesan persons and agencies are legal “alter egos” for the diocese, completely under diocesan control, and were used to “transfer, assign, commingle and conceal assets” totally $90 million dollars, and that the diocese violated federal racketeering laws by using the internet and mail to “deceive the public about the illicit sexual conduct rampant within the Diocese of Buffalo.”
“Within the Diocese of Buffalo there was a common communication network by which co-conspirators shared information on a regular basis. The Diocese of Buffalo used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the priests within the Diocese of Buffalo,” the lawsuit says.
Two of the plaintiffs claim to be whistleblowers against the diocese. Described as former employees or volunteers, the suit alleges that they became aware of “wrongful contact” by some priests in the diocese and were terminated by the diocese after reporting it to Church authorities.
On that front, the diocese is alleged to have engaged in “interstate commerce,” and did so “concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, of victims and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the Diocese of Buffalo, and its employees and priests.”
Federal racketeering laws, called RICO statutes, have been used in lawsuits against dioceses previously. In 1993, a New Jersey lawyer won a seven-figure settlement in a RICO-based lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden under the RICO act. Other lawyers followed, and RICO provisions have become used, to varying degrees of success, in lawsuits filed against other dioceses.
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