Four accuse local priest of abuse

The Post Star, New York/January 29, 2008

Clifton Park resident Michael Flynn speaks Monday at a news conference in Latham. Flynn and three other men accused the Rev. Gary Mercure of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct while Mercure was active in the ministry in Queensbury and Albany.

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Four more men came forward Monday to make child sexual abuse allegations against a Catholic priest formerly assigned to churches in Queensbury and Glens Falls.

Two of the men told reporters during a news conference in Latham on Monday that the Rev. Gary Mercure molested them each for nearly seven years when he was the priest at Our Lady of the Annunciation church in Queensbury in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Speaking on the condition that their names not be used, both men said Mercure began molesting them when they were 8 years old, and the abuse continued until they were about 15.

One said he told a church leader at Our Lady of the Annunciation of the abuse, as well as a parishioner who is a police officer, but they took no action on his complaint, and the abuse continued.

Both said they knew of at least four other victims of Mercure from the same time period -- men who have not publicly come forward.

"There are people who knew about this and did nothing about it," one of the men said angrily.

Two other men told reporters that Mercure committed sexual misconduct with them when Mercure was assigned to St. Teresa of Avila Church in Albany in the 1970s.

One of those men, Michael Flynn of Clifton Park and Lake George, gave his name, while the other would not.

All four spoke during a news conference organized by the Capital District chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Mercure has not publicly commented on the allegations made earlier this month, and could not be reached for comment Monday.

The gathering came eight days after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany announced that Mercure had taken a paid leave of absence amid an investigation of allegations he abused a boy while assigned to the Queensbury church.

That alleged victim was not among those who spoke at Monday's event. That matter is under investigation by the Warren County district attorney's office, as well as by the church.

The four who did come forward, though, spoke about improper relationships with Mercure, who spent at least 12 years at Our Lady of the Annunciation and St. Mary's in Glens Falls before he left St. Mary's in 1995 for what he called "health reasons."

Mercure had left the Queensbury church in the early 1990s for unspecified reasons before he landed in Glens Falls a short time later.

However, John Watkins, a Queensbury man who said he had a sexual relationship as an adult with Mercure between 1992 and 1994, said Monday that Mercure left the Glens Falls church because Watkins told the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany about his relationship with Mercure and improprieties he said Mercure committed.

Watkins, who did not attend Monday's news conference but who had e-mailed The Post-Star after the diocese announced its investigation, said he had gone to Mercure for counseling in 1992 because he had been sexually abused by a relative as a child. He said Mercure initiated a sexual relationship that continued for more than two years.

Watkins said he was 24 when the relationship began, after he met Mercure at Glens Falls Hospital.

He said Mercure gave him $60,000 during that two-year period, and often had a desk drawer full of cash from which he gave Watkins money.

"He used my childhood trauma to his own benefit," Watkins said.

Watkins said Mercure was transferred after he made his complaint to the diocese, and the diocese paid him $8,000 and has paid his insurance co-pays for counseling and medications since.

Ken Goldfarb, a spokesman for the diocese, said the diocese did learn of an adult sexual relationship Mercure had in 1995. The diocese "took appropriate action" against the priest for breaking his vow of celibacy, but Goldfarb would not detail what that action was.

He said the diocese has paid for the counseling of the man involved, but he would not elaborate on the matter.

"It was not a case of sexual abuse and it did not involve a minor," Goldfarb said.

Mark Lyman, Capital Region director of SNAP, said the group believes Mercure was sent to a church-run Pennsylvania hospital for treatment related to sexual misconduct allegations made against him.

"We know Father Mercure was there, because many parishioners contacted him there and visited him there," Lyman said.

One of the four men who spoke at Monday's news conference said he contacted the diocese late last week to make a formal complaint.

That man was Flynn, who said Mercure committed "sexual misconduct" against him when he was 15 or 16.

He would not elaborate, and the three other men who spoke at the press conference also would not release details about the extent of the abuse.

One of the Queensbury men told news media representatives on Monday that Mercure "groomed" him and his family as he sexually abused him, taking him places and accompanying his family on an out-of-state vacation at one point.

He said Mercure molested him on that vacation, and also contacted him when he went away to college.

"He told me if I told anyone, it would destroy my family, and my parents would get divorced," he said. "Those are horrible things for a kid to hear."

The other Queensbury man got angry as he spoke about why he came forward and how his complaints were ignored by the church and a family member.

Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said the diocese contacted her office recently with details related to the complaint that led to Mercure's leave of absence last week, but it appears there can't be a criminal prosecution.

The statute of limitations in the matter would be five years past the complainant's 18th birthday, a time period that has lapsed, she said.

Lyman said SNAP is lobbying state legislators to pass a law that would suspend the statute of limitations in cases of clergy sexual abuse.

Lyman and lawyer John Aretakis were harshly critical of the diocese for allowing Mercure to remain in the ministry, because SNAP believes the diocese knew of complaints against Mercure as far back as the early 1990s.

Goldfarb, though, said there were no child sexual abuse complaints made against Mercure until recently.

In a statement issued by the diocese later Monday afternoon, Goldfarb said that after the announcement of the allegation against Mercure last week, the diocese received telephone calls regarding further possible allegations of abuse.

"Though no additional formal complaints have been received thus far, the diocese is following up on these contacts," the statement said. "Every such complaint filed with the diocese is taken seriously and is investigated.

"The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany encourages anyone who as a minor was sexually abused by Albany Diocese clergy to report the incident to law enforcement authorities or the Albany Diocese so that the allegation can be investigated and so that the Diocese can provide assistance to the victim," the statement continues. "... It is the policy of the Albany Diocese to investigate thoroughly any report of clergy sexual misconduct."

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