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Diocese Settles 1st Priest Abuse Lawsuit

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

As a jury trial loomed on the horizon, the Diocese of Albany has settled a priest abuse lawsuit for $750,000, marking the first Child Victims’ Act lawsuits to settle. 

However, according to the abuse survivor Stephen J. Mittler, the settlement negotiations were wrought with difficulties including a veiled threat that if the matter wasn’t resolved the Diocese of Albany would declare bankruptcy. In addition, the Diocese of Albany continuously filed motions to block the release of church documents concerning the handling of priests who were accused of abusing minors.  In fact, the lawyer for Mr. Mittler had to argue 13 separate motions in order to obtain the documents, all of which he won.  A recent court ruling has opened the door to the release of psychological treatment records of priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany accused of child sexual abuse. 

Obtaining Church Documents

The diocese had argued that the records were subject to patient-physician privilege, but the appeals court wrote last Thursday that the privilege was waived because the priests’ records had been shared with then-Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

The appellate court also upheld a lower court judge’s decision that ordered the diocese to turn over personnel records of dozens of priests determined to have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse from the 1940s through the 1990s, as well as notes of investigators hired by the diocese to look into sexual abuse allegations

It is clear the Diocese of Albany doesn’t want the publicity of any priest abuse trials.  Recently, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger offered mediation to resolve the hundreds of cases pending against the Diocese of Albany.  However, the offer was met with skepticism on the part of abuse survivors due to the Diocese’s legal tactics and the former Bishop Howard Hubbard’s admissions of transferring accused priests during his long tenure as bishop of the diocese.

If you or a loved one are a survivor of child sexual abuse, please contact our child sexual abuse civil attorneys today to discuss your options for justice.

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