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Gary Mercure

Gary Mercure, a former Glens Falls priest, stares Feb. 10, 2011, at the jury as a guilty verdict is read after he was tried in Berkshire County Superior Court for the rape of two altar boys in the 1980s in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 

It hurts to read the grand jury report from Pennsylvania about the widespread sexual assaults on children by Catholic priests there.

The details of cases, laid out in plain, straightforward language, are horrible. Some border on the unbelievable, they are so bad.

You feel, reading the report, that these were monsters, not men.

But these were not isolated cases. The grand jury found credible allegations against more than 300 predator priests and the number of victims ran into the thousands.

This was an epidemic of sexual assault of children, abetted by bishops and other church officials who covered up the priests’ crimes and allowed them to continue their predation.

The pain of having to confront the reality of these crimes is probably going to be felt much closer to home in the coming months, because, motivated by the Pennsylvania report, the New York attorney general has undertaken a similar investigation and issued subpoenas for all eight Catholic dioceses in the state.

The pain of revealing the truth and dealing with it will almost certainly be felt here in the Glens Falls area, which has had a history with predator priests.

Gary Mercure, now in the midst of a long prison sentence in Massachusetts for child rape, served at St. Mary’s in Glens Falls and Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury and worked for years as campus minister at Adirondack Community College.

Mercure’s personnel file, forced open during a lawsuit, showed that the Albany Diocese was aware he’d been accused of using church money to take young boys on trips and buy gifts for them.

Dozia Wilson had a documented history of child sex abuse allegations when, in 1980, he was assigned by the Albany Diocese to St. Ann’s church in Fort Ann. He was later accused by a local man of sexually abusing him multiple times when he, the victim, was a teenager.

A former pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Fort Edward, James Rosch, was in 2002 removed from the ministry by the Albany Diocese for “substantiated” allegations he had sexually abused minors. Rosch had also served at Our Lady of the Annunciation.

How much misery was sown by these priests and others? How many victims are still living in the local area, unrecognized and uncompensated, struggling with their secrets?

These subpoenas may lead to a grand jury investigation in New York, and that investigation could offer victims a chance, finally, to tell their stories and, maybe, get some justice.

Justice is hard to find in these cases, because of statutes of limitations on both civil and criminal actions. In Pennsylvania, out of hundreds of offenders, the grand jury was able to bring criminal charges against only two men.

In New York, unlike Pennsylvania, criminal charges in the most serious sexual assault cases have no statute of limitations. That’s good. But New York’s laws aren’t perfect – in civil and most criminal cases, the statute of limitations bars victims from pursuing child sexual abuse accusations once they turn 23.

The Child Victims Act would allow future victims to bring felony criminal cases until they turn 28 and civil cases until age 50. It would also include a one year look-back, giving past victims a year in which they could file civil lawsuits.

Opposition to that look-back, especially from the Catholic Church, has so far stymied the act, which has been blocked in the state Senate. That is shameful, but resistance may crumble as the attorney general’s investigation progresses.

The truth is often painful, but we need the truth to force changes, like the Child Victims Act, that can prevent this horrible history from being repeated.

“Sexual abuse, in particular child sexual abuse, is not just a private wrong, to be handled ‘in house.’ It is a crime against society,” the Pennsylvania grand jury wrote in its report.

The more these cases are revealed — and many more will be revealed in the coming months and years — the worse things seem. But the opposite is true. Hearing these horror stories, however painful, is our first, necessary step toward preventing these crimes in the future.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Forcey, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Carol Merchant, Eric Mondschein and Barbara Sealy.

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