Diocesan Lawyer Seeks Investigation of Package
Troy-- Envelope Sent to Justice Presiding over Priest Abuse Cases Said to Contain Material about Church
By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
May 24, 2003
An attorney for the Albany Diocese on Friday called for an investigation into an unusual package stuffed with photographs and published material about the Catholic Church that was mailed to the state judge presiding over cases involving sexual abuse by priests.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Christian Hummel of Rensselaer County disclosed that he received the strange package and felt an ethical duty to place it into the public record for all sides to inspect.
Hummel was clearly cautious about the oversized envelope, which he said he considered a potentially inappropriate ex parte, or one-sided, communication.
"I have not looked at the envelope and I cannot say what is contained therein," the judge said. "I am making the envelope available today to all counsel who wish to inspect it."
The latest twist in the litigation sparked another contentious exchange between the lawyers. Attorney John Aretakis, who represents victims of clergy sexual abuse, said he recognized a name on a letter in the package as the same name that appeared on his home telephone's caller ID in February. A caller had left a threatening message, and he reported it to State Police, Aretakis said.
Church attorney Michael Costello said Aretakis should not be allowed to make the public allegation without a formal government investigation.
"I'm going to recommend this be turned over to law enforcement immediately," Costello said. "Mr. Aretakis has raised a serious issue on the record, and in light of this serious issue, immediate action is warranted."
Hummel said he would notify State Police.
Aretakis contacted State Police on Feb. 14 about the call but did not ask the authorities to take any action, Trooper Maureen Tuffey, a police spokeswoman, said Friday. A trooper listened to the recording of the female caller but did not consder her message to involve direct threats. "She was saying, 'If you do this, this will happen.' She was not threatening him per se," Tuffey said.
Hummel told the attorneys to be careful handling the package until after State Police have inspected it. "Maybe I've been watching too much 'Law and Order,' but try not to get your fingerprints all over it," Hummel said, referring to a popular television drama about criminal investigations.
After his brief inspection of the package, Aretakis said in court that the contents included laminated photographs of Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard and Pope John Paul II as well as letters and other published material concerning the Catholic church and the sexual abuse scandal.
The package will remain in a "secure storage area" and not be available for the public to see before the police examine it.
Aretakis has filed three lawsuits against the diocese, alleging church officials tried to manipulate or intimidate victims of sexual abuse to prevent them from coming forward with complaints.
The lawsuits were assigned to Hummel in March after state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi in Albany removed himself amid questions about allegedly inappropriate ex parte communication he had with the diocese's attorney.
Friday's court hearing generated the diocese's second call for civil authorities to investigate Aretakis' allegations.
On May 8, Hubbard urged Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney to look into accusations contained in one of the lawsuits. The suit, which names four priests and seeks $600,000, alleged that church officials last year mounted a coordinated effort to "stalk," intimidate and discourage a victim of sexual abuse from lodging a complaint. The potentially criminal accusation was not reported to law enforcement authorities.
Also Friday, Hummel set Dec. 1 as the trial date for one of the lawsuits filed by Aretakis, which alleges that the Revs. John Bertolucci and Kenneth Doyle coordinated efforts to discourage a victim from filing a complaint about sexual abuse. Bertolucci is one of 13 priests in the Albany Diocese removed from active ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse. Doyle is the diocesan chancellor.
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