Former area priest, diocese are named in civil lawsuit
By Julia Green
A civil lawsuit has been filed against Father James J. McDevitt, former pastor at the Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Margaretville, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany in connection with the alleged abuse by McDevitt of a number of area boys.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Delaware County. The lawsuit claims negligence on the part of the diocese for not preventing McDevitt from allegedly engaging in misconduct with males between the ages of 11 and 19.
McDevitt was arrested in July and charged with 20 counts stemming from the alleged misconduct; he is currently being criminally prosecuted for six counts of second-degree sexual abuse, one count of third-degree sexual abuse, seven counts of forcible touching, and six counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He remains free on $1,000 bail.
“We’re proceeding on the civil suit while awaiting a determination in the criminal cases,” said Michael Jacobs, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “I know that all seven victims in the criminal case have had their cases consolidated, rather than have them tried separately, so that means he can’t pick them off one at a time; he’s going to have to deal with all of the kids.”
The civil suit was brought on behalf of four alleged victims and their families and seeks damages for a number of charges, including battery, negligent retention, negligent supervision, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of services.
Both McDevitt and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany were served in mid-March.
The negligent retention charges stem from allegations that McDevitt used the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s funds to purchase expensive gifts for boys in his parish, “such as bicycles costing hundreds of dollars,” and that the Diocese either knew or should have known that McDevitt was using church funds to purchase the gifts.
The suit asserts that the Diocese continued to employ McDevitt without investigating the use of the funds, and that had the Diocese investigated, it “would have discovered the sexual abuse that defendant McDevitt was subjecting boys in his parish to.” It goes on to state that the Diocese failed to exercise reasonable care in failing to investigate McDevitt’s use of church funds.
In a similar vein, the negligent supervision charge alleges that the diocese “knew or should have known” of McDevitt’s “dangerous unfitness to be a Roman Catholic priest,” and that the diocese “failed to exercise ordinary care in supervising” McDevitt in his assignment at the Sacred Heart Parish and, as a result, “failed to prevent the foreseeable conduct of defendant McDevitt from causing harm to others.”
The suit also claims that the diocese breached its duty to provide a priest capable of presenting safe learning in a spiritual environment by assigning McDevitt, to whom the suit refers as “an unfit agent with exploitative propensities.”
The civil suit is already underway, according to Jacobs, who added that the next step is for the defendants to interpose their answer, which he anticipated would occur by the end of the month.
“Then we go into discovery, so we get to put the defendant under oath,” Jacobs said.
Prior to serving as the priest at Sacred Heart, McDevitt was a pastor at the Delhi Catholic Church. He was ordained in 1997 and served as an associate pastor at St. Pius X Church in Loudonville; the diocese claimed it had never received any complaints about McDevitt in his 12 years as a priest.
Since the start of the investigation last summer, McDevitt has been on an administrative leave. He has since been replaced at the Sacred Heart Catholic Parish.
McDevitt’s attorney did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.
The next hearing in the criminal case against McDevitt is scheduled for Thursday, April 8 at 10 a.m. in Middletown Court. Several hearings have been postponed.