Diocese of Ogdensburg

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The Diocese of Ogdensburg was established in the late 19th century and comprises the northern counties of New York state including Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties and the northern portions of Hamilton and Herkimer counties.

Some of its former bishops have been transferred to other dioceses such as Thomas Donnellan (Archbishop of Atlanta), Paul Loverde (Diocese of Arlington), Gerald Barbarito (Palm Beach), and Robert Cunningham (Syracuse).  The present bishop is Terry LaValley, a native of the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

In November 2018, the Diocese of Ogdensburg published a list of 28 priests who were the subject of a finding “of reasonable grounds” that they had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult, according to the diocese.

Before LaValley was named bishop, he was involved in the diocese’s investigation into sexual abuse by priests.  In 2004, the Diocese of Ogdensburg reported that since 1950, 56 people, 37 of whom were minors at the time, had made sexual-abuse allegations against 35 of its clergymen.

The diocese found allegations against 23 priests credible. Many of those had died or were no longer serving, but the diocese removed eight then-active priests from ministry due to allegations of sexual abuse. It named four of them: Robert Shurtleff, David Wisniewski, Clark White and Theodore Gillette.

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All four had served in the Tri-Lakes area: Shurtleff in Saranac Lake in 1975 and Tupper Lake from 1991 to 2000, Wisniewski in Saranac Lake from 1991 to ’96, White in Tupper Lake from 1980 to ’83 and Gillette in Saranac Lake from 1982 to ’83, according to records compiled by Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota law firm that pursues clergy sex abuse cases nationally.

Like many dioceses in the Empire State, the published list released by Ogdensburg has been criticized for inaccuracies.  Additionally, the Diocese of Ogdensburg did not include in its list priests from religious orders or priests from other dioceses who served and abused children while in Ogdensburg.

One such priest is Rev Herbert Skurski, OFM Conv. who molested a child while serving as pastor at St. Mary’s Nativity Church, West Leyden, NY.  Skurski was transferred more than the average priest, every three years.  He is deceased but since he was not a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, the Diocese has scant records concerning his history. 

Another priest, Carl Stone a member of the Montfortian religious order, was convicted of sodomy charges while serving in the Albany Diocese. Prior to Albany, Stone worked in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, where he was also accused.  Yet, he is not listed as a credibly accused priest in Ogdensburg.

Paul F. Worczak, a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, was on the published list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.  In April 2002, a man told the diocese that Worczak molested him when he was age 11 in 1971, at Holy Family in Watertown. The priest allegedly touched the boy inappropriately and later kissed him. Worczak’s accuser said there were other victims. Former Ogdensburg Bishop Gerald Barbarito kept Worczak in active ministry until March 2003. Parishioners said they were not informed as to why he was removed.

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While Ogdensburg is a relatively small diocese, it shares in the secrecy, cover-up, transfer, and defense of priests who’ve molested children.  Relatively little information has been voluntarily shared by the Diocese.  More information will be forthcoming once the Child Victims Act takes effect in August 2019 and survivors are able to take their claims to a civil court of law.