A North Tonawanda woman is suing the Diocese of Buffalo and the Province of the Conventual Franciscans for $300 million, claiming she was sexually abused decades ago by an order priest.
This is the first local case to be filed since the passage of the Child Victims Act.
Gale Holler-Kennedy, 55, alleges in her complaint that the abuse began in September 1978, when she was 14 attending Cardinal O’Hara High School.
She accuses The Rev. Mark S. Andrzejczuk, an order priest who died in 2011, of sexually abusing her approximately twice a week over three years ending in 1981. She alleges that Andrzejczuk abused her during school hours by getting her excused from another teacher’s class.
“As a victim of Father Andrzejczuk’s sexual abuse, Plaintiff is unable at this time to fully describe all of the details of that abuse and the extent of the harm she suffered as a result,” the lawsuit states.
Holler-Kennedy accuses the diocese and province of negligent hiring practices and supervision and for failing to report “reasonable suspicion of abuse of children in their care” as required by state law.
“She was abused for years by this priest, over a hundred times by this priest who is her science teacher,” said Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney who is representing her.
“It was rampant. It was in the school, it was open and notorious how supervisors could not notice the sexual abuse or something being awry or something being wrong. For abuse to occur over three years in such a school setting, it has a bad odor to it.”
Garabedian said his client did file a claim with the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for a potential settlement, but she was denied for failing to file the claim before the deadline.
“They’ve only let a handful of victims into the settlement program who provided prior notice of abuse years ago prior to the arbitrary deadline they set up,” Garabedian said.
The diocese has given accusers mixed signals as to whether they’d qualify for the compensation program if the abuse came at the hands of an order priest. But Garabedian said that the church’s Canon Law requires that bishops give permission for any order priest who seeks to work within the diocese. Some victims of order priests did get accepted into the program, but not Holler-Kennedy.
The diocese, in total, has released the names of 80 priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse against them, but Andrzejczuk is not among them.
“As this matter is now in litigation, the diocese will decline to comment,” said the diocese spokeswoman.
The province did not respond to requests for comment.
Holler-Kennedy is being represented by Garabedian and Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC law firm out of New York City. The lawsuit is filed in Supreme Court of the State of New York.