2003-10-10 / Front Page

Accused Priests Had Ties To Local Parishes

By Howard Schwach
Accused Priests Had Ties To Local Parishes By Howard Schwach

Twenty-seven Catholics who grew up in the Brooklyn Diocese (Brooklyn and Queens) have filed a law suit against 24 priests who they claim in the suit raped, sodomized and molested them during earlier decades.

Among those 24 priests are two who reportedly served in a number of Rockaway parishes during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.

At least two of the priests named in the lawsuit, filed by Attorney Michael Dowd on behalf of the 22 male plaintiffs and five female plaintiffs, reportedly served in Rockaway.

According to published reports, Father James Russo, who was in charge of the altar boys at St. Virgilius Church in Broad Channel in the late 1970’s, "sexually abused a boy who was about twelve years old, taking him to his room in the rectory and forcing him to remove his clothes, where he fondled him."

While Russo is reportedly now working in a Florida parish, the lawsuit says that his whereabouts are unknown.

The other priest named in the lawsuit is Father Harold T. Cox. Cox was named in the suit for his actions at St. Gabriel Parish in New Lots, where he allegedly "sexually abused a boy between the ages of 11 and 14" during the late 1950’s. According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred after confession, when the priest instructed the boy to meet him. The suit alleges that the abusive incidents occurred 30 to 50 times over a three-year period.

After the story broke in the daily media, however, a number of local residents called The Wave to say that Cox served both at St. Camillus and at St. Francis de Sales during the 1950’s.

A call to the offices of the Brooklyn Diocese to corroborate that fact went unreturned.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that her husband had been abused by Cox at St. Camillus, where the priest was called " Harry the Hands" by the altar boys who served the parish because he was constantly fondling the boys.

It was reported to The Wave that a plaque honoring Cox stands in the Parish building and that a number of former parishioners asked the current priest to remove it. According to one of the former parish members, the request was denied.

Some of the Rockaway people who have alleged that Cox sexually abused them when they were young, reportedly contacted Dowd recently to add their names to the lawsuit. At press time, however, none of them were willing to go on the record with The Wave about their experiences with either of the priests.

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