Forty-four years after a Catholic priest lured a 15-year-old boy into his car and sexually molested him, a Rochester man had his day in court. A local jury recently awarded the unnamed victim $95 million for the sexual abuse he suffered at the hand of Rev. Foster P. Rogers in 1979. At the time, Foster was an assistant pastor at St. Alphonsus in Auburn.
The New York Child Victims Act (CVA) opened the door for cases like this where people were abused long ago as children. Statutes of limitation previously barred such legal actions. This award is the second highest a New York jury has doled out under the CVA – following a prior $100 million award.
Before this verdict, five other victims had filed complaints against Rogers as a sexual abuser under the Child Victims Act.
Diocese Defrocks Roving Father Rogers
For 35 years the diocese moved Rogers to different churches across New York. He served at Christ the King in Rochester, St. Patrick Church in Elmira, St. John the Evangelist, Assumption Church in Fairport, St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, and St. Pius X Church. Who knows how many kids he abused as the church ignored complaints or suspicions of misconduct?
Doomsday for the reverend came on May 2, 2002, when amid the growing outrage over Catholic priests’ sexual misconduct, Bishop Matthew Clark removed Foster from his ministerial post. Foster had risen to become pastor at St. Alphonsus before he went to his last post at St. Pius X Church. Bishop Clark said he found records of past misconduct in diocesan files, including allegations of sexual abuse of minors. The Bishop also sanctioned a retired priest.
Clark expressed profuse apologies for not reviewing the damning file earlier. The diocese turned information about Rogers’s and two other priests’ alleged sexual abuse over to the Monroe County District Attorney. However, the DA took no action because the statute of limitations had expired.
A mother claimed Rogers sexually abused her 16-year-old son in 1975. Then assistant pastor Rogers allegedly abused the boy at the Church of the Assumption. Another man had complained to the diocese in 1993 about Rogers abusing him. These claims fell on deaf ears.
About the Victim
Amy Keller, attorney for the plaintiff, said her client grew up in a poor area of Rochester where he “had a very troubled childhood.” The boy did not know Rogers when the abuse happened and was not associated with his church. Rogers preyed on the 15-year-old, offering him a ride home in downtown Rochester and then sexually molesting him in the car.
Keller said the abuse destroyed her client’s life. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. The victim also has a generalized anxiety disorder from the abuse and struggles with substance and alcohol issues. The abuse continues to haunt him with flashbacks and triggers of that day in the car with Rogers.
In Keller’s view, many victims aren’t filing complaints under the Child Victim Act just for the money – they want real change.
Jury Gives Victim Huge Damages Award
Reverend Rogers did not hire an attorney and failed to contest the allegations in the initial lawsuit which Kelly filed in 2020 on behalf of her client. In a letter to the court, the then 80-year-old Rogers said he would simply give the victim money if he could. However, he indicated his outstanding credit card bills were more than his income.
The court entered a default judgment for the plaintiff and the case proceeded to a jury trial solely on damages. New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano Jr. presided over the damages trial. The defrocked priest represented himself at trial but declined to question the victim when he testified at the damages trial.
The jury awarded the victim millions more than he sought in the complaint. In total, the jury found the victim of Rogers’ abuse deserved $30 million in compensation for past pain and suffering and $15 million for future pain and suffering. The jurors also imposed $50 million in punitive damages, signaling the egregious nature of Rogers’s actions.
The plaintiff’s lawyer commented that the award size "sends a very strong and clear message" about the lifelong impacts of child abuse.
Will the Victim See a Dime of the Award?
The victim’s attorney indicated that the verdict gave her client vindication and closure on his guilt and shame from the abuse. Just how much of the massive award he will ever see, however, remains unclear.
Father Rogers has only some income from a part-time job and other sources.
Facing hundreds of claims of priest and other employee sexual abuse, the Rochester Diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2019. In late 2022, the institution agreed to set up a $55 million trust to pay survivors of sexual abuse committed by clergy members. The plan stipulates that insurance policies must be assigned to the trust. The exact amounts of insurance contributions are still unknown, with diocese litigation against its primary insurers pending. The funding of the settlement trust released the diocese from all liabilities for the sexual abuse claims.
The trust alone would not even pay this victim his total award, let alone leave anything for other claims. Ms. Keller declined to discuss the bankruptcy and whether her client is a claimant under the arrangements. One report says her client did not seek damages from the Diocese of Rochester.