Will the church pay for the Margaretville sex abuse scandal?

Four of the six alleged sexual-abuse victims of accused Margaretville priest James McDevitt are suing the Albany Catholic diocese, in hopes of recovering an unspecified amount of money. If they succeed, they'll join just a handful of accusers to get cash settlements from the diocese.

For the past decade, tales of sex abuse by priests in the Catholic Church have mushroomed into a worldwide scandal that, this year, engulfed the Vatican itself. (For a truly eye-opening statistical look at the priest-abuse scandal, see the church's 2009 survey of abuse -- it chronicles the thousands of victims and allegations that have surfaced since 2004.)

Since 1950 in the Albany diocese, at least 53 priests have been accused of sexual abuse. According to statistics on abuse cases in the Albany diocese collected by BishopAccountability.org, only seven accused priests ever ended up on the receiving end of lawsuits that netted the plaintiffs money.

The Watershed Post has obtained a copy of the complaint in the McDevitt case, which is reprinted in full below. (We have redacted the names and addresses of the alleged victims.)

McDevitt Complaint Redacted

The most interesting thing about the document -- in addition to the detailed accounts of McDevitt's alleged abuse, which consisted mainly of convincing boys to allow him to spank them -- is its claim that the Albany Diocese was negligent when McDevitt spent church money on gifts for several of the boys. The lawsuit requests damages for the four alleged victims and their families, but it doesn't name an amount that they should be paid.

It's hard to tell what claims like those against McDevitt would cost the church. The Albany diocese has already spent over $8 million on sex abuse victims since 1950, according to its 2009 "Protecting Children and Young People" Report. (That money comes from the diocese's self-insurance fund, which is paid for by parishoners.) The Albany diocese settlements listed in the BishopAccountability database range from $70,000 to almost $1 million.

The fate of McDevitt's civil case might rest on the outcome of his criminal one, which, after nine months, still hasn't really gotten started. Last week, McDevitt made a rare appearance in court, at an April 8 hearing in Margaretville's village court  the Town of Middletown Justice Court. (The Catskill Mountain News, which has been following the case doggedly and broke the story of the civil lawsuit against McDevitt last week, reported on Thursday that this is the first time that McDevitt has appeared in court since his arraignment last summer.)

As a line of Delaware County Sheriff's Deputies sat watchfully in the back of the room, McDevitt's attorney, Paul Gruner, told Middletown Justice Gary Rosa that he had just been hired as McDevitt's attorney. He then requested a 30-day extension in the case.

Rosa granted the delay, but then told Gruner that if the case does go to trial, the trial should be scheduled for sometime this summer.