A 20-year-old Long Island college student is suing a Roman Catholic priest, his Diocese and the parish he worked over alleged sexual abuse she suffered when she was 8 years old.
The lawsuit also alleges the Diocese of Rockville Centre failed to alert families to known allegations of sexual abuse against dozens of its priests over the years and allowed many of them, including the plaintiff's alleged abuser, the Rev. Gregory Yacyshyn, to continue working in positions with access to children.
"I hope that by filing this lawsuit other children are safe from what I've endured," the woman said in a statement read by her attorney at a news briefing announcing the lawsuit Wednesday. "And others have the strength to come forward."
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, regularly celebrated Mass and participated in church-related activities, and therefore, "came to admire, trust, revere, and respect" Yacyshyn, who allegedly used his position of authority to abuse her around 2003 at St. Francis of Assissi Church in Greenlawn. His attorney denied the accusations.
Yacyshyn was reassigned to St. Patrick's of Bay Shore, within the same Diocese, shortly after the alleged abuse and before the plaintiff's parents were aware of it, the lawsuit says. Once the girl's parents learned of the allegations, they told law enforcement and the Diocese, who allowed Yacyshyn to "remain as a priest of the Diocese in good standing with access to children," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the Diocese failed to develop policies and procedures designed to protect against child sex abuse and that it did not properly train employees or investigate allegations. The lawsuit also alleges it neglected to alert parishioners about the risks of child sexual abuse uncovered in a special grand jury investigation conducted around the time the plaintiff was allegedly abused.
The Suffolk County Supreme Court Special Grand Jury issued a report around 2003 that documented a cover-up of child sex abuse by the Diocese. The grand jury heard testimony from 97 witnesses and considered hundreds of pages of documents and found, "Priests committed crimes against children of the Diocese. These crimes were treated as a matter of sin and never reported to law enforcement authorities."
"Most children did not report the crimes against them until long after the criminal statue of limitations had lapsed. Those who did were promised help, but received little," the grand jury report continued. "The policy was to avoid scandal by the suppression of information. Priests and Diocesan officials lied about what they knew about sexually abusive priests to their parishioners and to the public at large. This policy put children at grave risk."
About a year after the release of the grand jury report, the Diocese of Rockville Centre publicly admitted it knew of 66 priests in its employ who had been accused of sexually abusing minors. It never released the names of the alleged abusers.
Yacyshyn, who was ordained in 1998, currently works for St. Jude of Mastic Beach, also under the Rockville Centre Diocese. St. Jude parishioners describe Yacyshyn as a "great guy" who would not sexually abuse children.
"If somebody's saying that it's a lie," parishioner Mary Ellen Billen said. "I would stake my life on it."
The lawsuit alleges the Diocese's failure to warn families about the sex abuse allegations perpetuates such beliefs, which it says are dangerous misconceptions. It says the plaintiff in the case against Yacyshyn suffered and continues to deal with emotional distress and the physical manifestations of that distress, which may impact her ability to hold down a job or cause her to incur medical and psychological expenses throughout her life. It seeks unspecified damages.
Yacyshyn's attorney, Elizabeth Kase, called the accusations "baseless."
"These baseless accusations will be addressed in a court of law where Father Yacyshyn will have legal remedies to counter and quash these scurrilous accusations," Kase said.
The lawsuit accuses the Diocese of Rockville Centre and St. Francis of negligence and creating a public nuisance by failing to disclose the names of the priests involved in the alleged abuse and by allowing priests who had been accused to remain employed with the Diocese.
It asks the court to order the Diocese to release the names of all its clerics accused of molesting children "at any point in time through present day" and documents pertaining to those cases.
The Diocese said in a statement that the allegations against Yacyshyn were never substantiated, and that it was in close contact with Suffolk County prosecutors when he was first accused.
"The Diocese of Rockville Centre looks forward to presenting the actual facts of this matter in a court of law, rather than in the atmosphere of an unfortunate publicity stunt," the statement said.
-Andrew Siff and Marc Santia contributed to this report