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Victim of clergy abuse asks Catholic church leaders for transparency
Post-Star - 8/8/2022
Aug. 7—Before July 6, Stephen Mittler was simply known as John Doe 1988-1989 in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and former priest Mark Haight.
The Saratoga Springs man decided to make his story public in hopes the awareness would inspire others to come forward and to encourage transparency from the diocese.
Mittler had a busy week, making the rounds and meeting with officials of the Catholic church.
After standing with the bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, on the steps of Corpus Christi Church in the village of Round Lake, where he first met his abuser, he then traveled to New York City with his 16-year-old daughter to meet with Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan.
He said he is trying to have a working relationship with the diocese and church leaders to give other victims of sexual abuse by clergy members the space to tell their stories and encourage transparency from the diocese regarding cases of abuse.
"I met with Bishop Scharfenberger and the cardinal along with my daughter, and she was able to ask him questions as we talked. It was very positive and successful, hopefully with more conversations to come," Mittler told The Post-Star on his way home from the meeting.
Earlier in the week, he spoke alongside the bishop before Sunday Mass after a private half-an-hour conversation with him inside the church.
"I am the face of an abused, Mark Haight is the abuser, the bishop is the face of the organization that allowed this to happen, he is also the face of abuse," Mittler began in front of the row of news cameras gathered outside of the church.
He told the crowd of supporters, even though he and the bishop may not be on the same side of every issue, it is important they have an ongoing conversation to help other victims.
"This is both an awareness campaign and a transparency campaign. I've had dozens of people reach out to me and say 'me too'. Two were abused by Mark while he was a priest and another person was abused by him after he left the priesthood," Mittler shared. "We need to finish telling the story, this is an old headline, it's not surprising, but I think the Child Victims Act brings new awareness to it."
The state's Child Victims Act allows those who are victims of child sexual assault to bring civil lawsuits up until their 55th birthday.
The Mittlers faithfully sat in the third row of the Corpus Christi Church for Mass each Sunday, but something changed 34 years ago for Stephen Mittler.
He was only 12 at the time when he met Mark Haight, who was a floating priest at the time filling in for other clergy members on vacation or out sick. Mittler said Haight immediately "dug his claws" into the family.
The day they met, Haight took Mittler, along with his father and one of his brothers, flying in his Cessna.
"His grooming truly began the day that he met me. By the time he was able to infiltrate my family, my brothers were too old," Mittler said.
Over time, after building a relationship with the family, Haight would bring Mittler on day trips to his cabin, in the Warren County town of Thurman, to work on projects together.
The trips turned into overnights where Haight would initiate a wrestling match that would turn into molestation and rape, according to Mittler.
"I wouldn't say I blacked it out, but I just can't wrap my head around what my thought process was, because I knew it was going to happen if we were staying overnight in the cabin," he said.
He said then-Bishop Howard Hubbard sent Haight to a treatment facility for pedophiliac priests in New Mexico in late 1989 for allegations from another young boy being abused at the same time. While he was away, Haight told the Mittler family he was at a retreat and even sent photos from where he was staying. Mittler's abuse continued when Haight returned from New Mexico.
Mittler places much of the blame on Bishop Hubbard for not reporting any of the allegations of clergy abuse to the police.
"Hubbard never called the police, Hubbard never had him arrested, it was because of him I was abused. He didn't do what any logical person would do and because of that I met Mark and that's why I hold him accountable as well as diocesan personnel at the time," he said.
At the age of 48, in 1996, Haight was removed from the priesthood and now lives near a Schenectady school, according to Mittler. Haight was reassigned after his treatment in New Mexico in 1990, as the chaplain at Glens Falls Hospital until 1996.
A civil lawsuit filed by Mittler against the diocese was scheduled for trial on July 26, however he agreed to a settlement of $750,000 on June 3, due to fears that the diocese would file for bankruptcy before the trial and he would receive nothing. The agreement includes a court-ordered payment from Haight, the former priest, as well. The next scheduled trial against the diocese is Sept. 6, for allegations against Haight.
The Albany Diocese and Bishop Scharfenberger offered their apologies to the victims of clergy.
"I want to help all survivors find healing of body, heart and soul," said Scharfenberger in a statement. "That includes arranging for financial redress for that specific group of survivors whose abuse happens to fall within the CVA (Child Victims Act) parameters."
The diocese said financial aid or recovery alone does not address the substantial emotional, spiritual and relationship wounds of any survivor.
"The diocese now has a vigorous program of child protection in all church settings that relies on broad training and empowerment to identify and report suspected abuse of minors. It also provides pastoral and spiritually healing options for those survivors and loved ones who have asked for care. It is important to keep in mind always that healing is far more than a monetary matter.
"For my part, I remain a pastor who cares very much for survivors, seeking to walk with them, to listen and to learn, so that no one may be on this journey toward healing alone," Scharfenberger stated.
Michael Costello, attorney for the Albany diocese, also extended an apology to Mittler when he took his deposition in the early stages of the case.
The diocese said it continues to urge anyone who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest or deacon to report the matter to a law enforcement agency or to the diocese. All survivors can reach out to the diocese's assistance coordinator, Frederick Jones, whether or not there is a pending lawsuit.
"He is available to start you on the road to healing. You do not have to journey alone. You can reach him at 518-453-6646 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org," the diocese stated.
Jana DeCamilla is a staff writer who covers Moreau, Queensbury, and Lake George. She can be reached at 518-742-3272 or email@example.com.
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