A Michigan woman has filed a multimillion-dollar suit against the Buffalo Catholic Diocese and a priest, alleging that the priest sexually assaulted and abused her more than 20 years ago during a drill-team competition in Chicago.
The suit was filed this week in U.S. District Court in Chicago against the Rev. Robert J. Biesinger, 63, who unexpectedly resigned last August as pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Cheektowaga and has not been reassigned.
The suit also names the diocese, the New York Archdiocese and the former Baker-Victory High School in Lackawanna.
Father Biesinger, who was the diocesan Catholic Youth Organization moderator of the year in 1980, organized and coached teen color guard and drill team units at several parishes where he served and at Baker-Victory, where he was a faculty member from 1968 to 1975.
The suit was filed by Colleen McMullin Ptak, 36, who lives with her husband, Stanley, in Flint, Mich. She was a member of the "Guys and Dolls" color guard and drill team at Baker-Victory at the time of the alleged incident.
Mrs. Ptak alleges that the priest repeatedly molested her in August 1974 in a room in the McCormick Inn in Chicago where the drill team was entered in a national competition at Soldier Field.
She was 15 years old at the time and had just completed her freshman year of high school, the suit says.
Father Biesinger was director and coach of the drill team, as well as a chaperone on the trip.
Monsignor David M. Lee, diocesan director of communications, said the diocese cannot comment on the suit because it is a defendant in the case.
He referred questions to Terrence M. Connors, attorney for the diocese, who could not be reached to comment.
The court papers allege that Mrs. Ptak began recalling the abuse in January 1994 and that "additional recollections of sexual and psychological abuse" by the priest have occurred since then.
The suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for Mrs. Ptak as well as the same amount for her husband, because his relationship with his wife has been gravely damaged as a result of the alleged abuse.
The Ptaks' attorney, Samuel A. Ragnone of Flint, told The Buffalo News that the Ptaks reported the alleged abuse to the diocese last March.
A short time later, he said, Monsignor Robert J. Cunningham, diocesan chancellor, told them Father Biesinger had "made some admissions." However, in a subsequent conversation with Mrs. Ptak, Monsignor Cunningham said there "were no admissions" by the priest, Ragnone said.
The diocese was told that Father Biesinger had abused Mrs. Ptak in the faculty house at Baker-Victory; in the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Delevan, where he had served as pastor; and in her childhood home in South Buffalo.
"We're not out to bankrupt the church. We wanted them (the diocese) to say, 'Yes, something happened,' and to help with the medical bills," said Mrs. Ptak, the mother of three young children.
She said she has been under the care of a psychiatrist and a psychologist for more than a year but stressed that "there has been no hypnosis, no prodding."
"I truly believed that by going to the church, they would be there to help me," she said.
However, she said that after her contact with diocesan officials, she feels like she is "a victim once again because the church is more concerned about the shepherds than the sheep."
Ragnone said he attempted for nearly a year to negotiate a settlement with the diocese before filing the suit.
"In the past year, not being able to get this problem resolved has only intensified my client's problems," he said. "It has been devastating to her and her family. Being a Catholic I'm very disturbed that the church does not want to work with someone who has been molested and violated and assaulted by a priest in our religion."
Father Biesinger, who was ordained in 1956, had served as pastor of Holy Family Parish, Machias, and Blessed Sacrament Parish, Delevan, before he was named pastor of the 1,850-family Cheektowaga parish in 1986.
Before his assignment at Baker-Victory, he was an assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Bethany, SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Williamsville and St. Mary's Parish in Lockport.