Rome priest accused of sex abuse in new lawsuit

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The Rev. Paul F. Angelicchio, of Rome, has been named in a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing a teenage altar boy when the priest worked at a church in Onondaga County in the late 1980s.

Angelicchio is pastor of the Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist & Transfiguration on East Dominick Street. Angelicchio was placed on a leave of absence by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse in late 2016 to investigate the claims. Church officials deemed the accusations not credible at the time and Angelicchio soon returned to service.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 14, also accuses two Syracuse-area priests who were named by the Diocese in December as having “credible” accusations of sexual abuse made against them. Those priests, Charles Eckermann and James F. Quinn, are both deceased.

Angelicchio was not among the priests listed by the Diocese in December.

Kevin Braney, age 46, currently of Colorado, filed the lawsuit only hours after the Child Victims Act was signed into law. The Act extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims to seek criminal charges or file lawsuits. Braney is represented by the Saeed & Little LLP law firm in Indiana.

The lawsuit has been filed as a class action case, meaning other possible plaintiffs can join. The lawsuit lists up to 1,000 possible “John Doe” victims of sexual abuse by Syracuse Diocese priests. The lawsuit also accuses four to 200 unnamed “John Doe” priests as defendants, alongside Angelicchio, Eckermann and Quinn.

Braney’s lawsuit also accuses impropriety from the Diocese itself, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.

“We want to expose and discover the truth of what happened,” said attorney Lauren Berri, of California. She is one of several attorneys attached to the class action lawsuit.

“Who knew what and when? Who allowed these priests to abuse so many children, and why didn’t they do anything to stop it?”

Berri said that the attorneys attached to the lawsuit are working to find and involve more plaintiffs with accusations against the three priests and the Syracuse Diocese.

“It’s expected to be a very large number,” she stated. The plaintiffs will be allowed to remain anonymous, with Braney acting as the focal point.

Now that the lawsuit has been filed in the Northern District of New York, Berri said the case will enter a discovery phase, wherein the attorneys can examine evidence and conduct interviews.

Rev. Angelicchio directed all questions to his attorney, Tom Murphy.

"Kevin Braney made these same allegations in 2016 and they were thoroughly investigated by the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office, and the results were that it was not a credible complaint and that it was unfounded," Murphy said.

"We feel the same result will occur with this civil suit."

Diocese Chancellor Danielle Cummings said via email that the Diocese had not yet been served with the lawsuit, but would respond to the complaint once served.

Angelicchio

The lawsuit claims that the Rev. Angelicchio raped and sexually abused Braney while acting as a clergyman at St. Ann’s Catholic Parish in Manlius, in Onondaga County, in 1988 and 1989. The lawsuit states that Braney was an altar boy at the church and was 15-years-old.

The lawsuit calls Angelicchio the “young protege” of Eckermann, and that it was Angelicchio who first abused Braney. The lawsuit states that the abuse continued until 1989, when Braney was confirmed in the church and his family left St. Ann’s.

According to the lawsuit, “Kevin had been asking his parents to leave St. Ann’s since the abuse began, but his mother did not want to interfere with Kevin’s progression towards confirmation.”

The lawsuit states that Angelicchio abused Braney on multiple occasions, and that Angelicchio at least once “stood guard” outside a room while Eckermann raped Braney. Angelicchio told other parishioners that Braney was “not feeling well”, the lawsuit states.

“Eckermann and Angelicchio had tortured Kevin’s mind, body and soul to the point that he believed that the relentless abuse and rapes were part of his job as an altar boy,” the lawsuit states.

Rev. Angelicchio is a native of Rome, and a 1969 graduate of Rome Catholic High School. In 2011, he returned to the city as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church and Transfiguration Church. Previous to that, he had been pastor of Our Lady of Pompei/St. Peter Church in Syracuse for eight years.

In 1992, he was appointed pastor of Holy Family Church in Fairmont, Syracuse. Other assignments included parochial vicar at Our Lady of Pompei Church in Syracuse, part-time parochial vicar at St. Ann’s Church in Manlius and part-time director of Corcoran Faith Center, director of Fowler/Corcoran Center and parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Syracuse. From 1977 to 1999, he served as police chaplain for the City of Syracuse.

He was ordained on May 7, 1977, and offered his first Mass at St. John the Baptist Church on May 8, 1977.

According to the Syracuse Diocese, Angelicchio was previously placed on temporary administrative leave on Nov. 21, 2016 to investigate accusations of abuse of a minor. The minor was not named, but the Diocese said at the time that the abuse took place during the same time period as the accusations in Braney’s lawsuit.

The accusations were investigated by both the Review Board of the Syracuse Diocese and the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office. They determined that the accusations were not credible.

In February 2018, Braney was interviewed by Syracuse.com, and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick responded with an op-ed at Syracuse.com claiming Braney “is now demonstrably not a credible victim and does a terrible disservice to the many who were.”

In reference to Fitzpatrick’s op-ed, the lawsuit claims it was “based on false information provided...by the Diocese and Bishop Cunningham.”

Attorney Berri said Angelicchio’s leave and absence and eventual reinstatement were “all part of the cover up.”

Lawsuit

Braney’s lawsuit specifically accuses Angelicchio, Eckermann and Quinn with assault, battery and false imprisonment. The lawsuit accuses the larger Diocese with fraud, defamation, conspiracy and breach of contract, along with negligence and gross negligence.

The fraud and breach of contract accusations deal with a back and forth between Braney and the Diocese over their paying for his therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the lawsuit, the Diocese initially approved of six therapy sessions at a reduced rate for the therapist, but eventually agreed to additional sessions and increased coverage after Braney met with Bishop Cunningham.

The negligence and gross negligence claims involve the Diocese’s failure to protect Braney and any other plaintiffs over the course of the sexual abuse.

According to the lawsuit, the Catholic Church offered a settlement program through the Syracuse Diocese, as they had done in other large cities. The lawsuit states that the Syracuse Settlement program offered Braney the maximum settlement of $300,000 in 2018, which he rejected. According to the lawsuit, 85 victims were offered settlements through the Syracuse Settlement program, and that funds for the settlements were solicited from parishioners.

“Using religion as both a source of power and pretext for their sins, these priests preyed on young boys and girls in ways that are difficult to even fathom,” the lawsuit states.

“The priests that raped Kevin, defendants Eckermann, Angelicchio and Quinn, were part of a larger network of priests who raped children and were sheltered and protected by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.”

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