SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A 41-year-old man sued the Syracuse Catholic Diocese and a retired priest for $25 million today, claiming the priest repeatedly molested him as a child three decades ago.
The diocese confirmed today that it determined the accusations against the priest, Felix Colosimo, to be credible and permanently removed him from the ministry in 2014. The accuser, Matthew Strzepek, reported the allegations to the diocese in 2013.
Colosimo denied the allegations today.
"Oh, my gosh -- that is so untrue," Colosimo told Syracuse.com of Strzepek's accusations. "There's no proof."
As a result of being removed from ministry, Colosimo can no longer function or present himself as a priest, said Danielle Cummings, a spokeswoman for the diocese.
Many of the accusations Strzepek makes in the lawsuit are "markedly different than those presented to the Diocese of Syracuse," Cummings said. She said she couldn't elaborate because of the pending litigation.
Strzepek, who lives outside Santa Barbara, Calif., accused Colosimo in the lawsuit of sexually abusing him from 1987 through 1990, when Strzepek was 12 to 15 years old.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Connecticut because some of the abuse was there, and because that state's statute of limitations doesn't prevent the filing, according to Strzepek's lawyer, Jonathan Little of Indianapolis.
The abuse began in 1978 or 1979, when Strzepek was 4 years old, he told Syracuse.com. But New York's statute of limitations has expired on those claims.
Most of the abuse was in the rectory at St. Leo's Church in Holland Patent, Oneida County, Strzepek said. Some was at St. Peter's Church in Utica, where Colosimo first met Strzepek's family, Strzepek said.
Colosimo threatened him with physical violence if he ever told anyone, Strzepek said.
Strzepek repressed memories of the abuse until around 2013, when they flooded back, he said.
"I began having daily flashbacks and panic attacks and shortness of breath and even nightmares about it," he said.
That's when he decided to report the abuse to the diocese, he said.
An investigator hired by the diocese interviewed him for about three hours in California, he said. Strzepek gave the investigator a DVD of a video that Colosimo took of Strzepek and another boy, shirtless in bed at the rectory, Strzepek said.
In July 2014, the diocese's victims' assistance coordinator, Jacqueline Bressette, told Strzepek by phone that the diocese had found all of his claims against Colosimo to be credible, he said.
He asked her to put it in writing, but she would not, he said.
Strzepek said he was homeless for awhile in Santa Barbara because he couldn't find work as a result of the daily flashbacks.
Colosimo sexually abused Strzepek and another boy when the priest took them to a hotel in Connecticut in the fall of 1987, the lawsuit said. The other boy is not identified in the lawsuit.
Colosimo continued to abuse Strzepek on trips that the diocese promoted, planned and paid for to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lawsuit said.
In March of last year, the diocese agreed to pay for Strzepek's counseling for the psychological harm caused by the abuse, the suit said.
The diocese has paid for a year of counseling, Strzepek said. He didn't know how much it cost.
Colosimo, 78, said he retired three years ago because he turned 75. His retirement was unrelated to Strzepek's accusations, Colosimo said. He was a priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in New Hartford when he retired.
Colosimo said he'd taken Strzepek on trips, but never to Connecticut or any of the other states listed in the lawsuit. Colosimo wouldn't say where those trips were, only that they were in New York state.
"I've never even been in those states," he said.
Colosimo said he used to take appropriate videos of Strzepek and Strzepek's family.
"I've taken videos of his whole family for years," Colosimo said. "I always had a video camera with me."
But he said he never took a video of Strzepek or the other boy shirtless on a hotel bed.
"Oh, God, this is insane," he said. "This is ridiculous."
He said he read a letter Strzepek wrote to the diocese about the allegations. The diocese had a committee investigate the claims, he said. Strzepek's brother gave a statement refuting the allegations, Colosimo said.
What became of the diocese's investigation? Colosimo was asked.
"I don't want to say," he said.
The case highlights a disparity between New York and Connecticut, said another of Strzepek's lawyers, Stephen Estey of San Diego. Connecticut gives child-molesting victims until they turn 48 years old to sue their attackers. In New York, the statute of limitations for Strzepek to sue Colosimo expired when Strzepek turned 23.
"It depends on where you were abused geographically -- one person has a viable claim whereas someone in New York, they're foreclosed from ever getting justice," Estey said.
Strzepek's lawsuit accuses another priest, Robert Ours, of sexually abusing him when Strzepek was a child. Ours was a church deacon at the time.
Ours pleaded guilty in 2014 to possession of child pornography. He'd retired as a priest when he was convicted.
The diocese reported Strzepek's allegations to the Oneida County District Attorney's Office, Cummings said.
Since 2002, the Syracuse diocese has publicly disclosed credible findings of child-molesting against nine priests, according to bishop-accountability.org, a website that tracks cases across the country.
Bishop Robert Cunningham has rejected requests from victims to publicly disclose the names of 11 priests against whom the diocese has found child-molesting allegations to be credible.
Syracuse diocese, priest sued over child-molesting claims from 30 years ago June 02, 2017