Jury awards $95M to man who accused Rochester-area priest of child abuse

A jury Wednesday awarded $95 million to a local man who alleged he was sexually abused in 1979 by a former Rochester-area priest who also has been accused by others of sexual assaults.

The local man alleged that the former priest, Rev. Foster P. Rogers, sexually abused him in Rogers' car in July 1979.

The victim was then 15. Rogers now has limited income, according to letters he wrote the court, and the local man awarded the $95 million is unlikely to see even a tiny sliver of the award.

Rev. Foster Rogers, 1975
Rev. Foster Rogers, 1975

The award is one of the largest in New York since the Child Victims Act, which opened a window for lawsuits from past child victims of sexual abuse. Earlier this month an Erie County woman was awarded $100 million under the Child Victims Act, or CVA. That was thought to be the largest CVA award in New York.

In 1979 Rogers was an assistant pastor at St. Alphonsus in Auburn, which was a part of the 12-county Rochester diocese. The victim had no connections with the church, according to Amy Keller, a Buffalo attorney who represented the victim. Instead, Rogers met the teen in downtown Rochester and offered him a ride home, she said.

The victim "had a very troubled childhood," she said. "He grew up in a poor part of Rochester. The priest preyed on him."

Rogers had been moved across different churches in Rochester diocese

In May 2002, Rogers was one of three local Catholic clerics to be removed from their ministerial posts due to allegations of past sexual abuse of minors.

As the Democrat and Chronicle has previously reported, Rogers, like many abusive priests, had been moved across different churches by the local diocese. He was removed after the late Bishop Matthew Clark responded to nationwide outrage over priest abuse; Clark said he found records of past misconduct against Rogers in diocesan files.

The Democrat and Chronicle in 2002 reported on two other allegations of past abuse by Rogers. He allegedly molested a 16-year-old parishioner at his church in 1975. Another man said he had complained to the diocese of past abuse by Rogers, but nothing was done.

Rogers does have some income through part-time employment and other sources, Keller said. The size of the award "sends a very strong and clear message" about the lifelong impacts of child abuse, said Keller, an attorney with the firm of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria.

The jury heard from her client and saw how abuse "really destroys you as a person," Keller said.

How the jury decided on $95 million during the damages trial

There was no trial to determine liability. Rogers did not hire an attorney and did not contest the charges before the damages trial Wednesday. In a 2020 letter to the court, he said he was then 80 years old and would simply give the victim money if he could. Instead, he said, his outstanding credit card bills outstrip his income.

With Rogers not contesting the allegations in the initial lawsuit, filed in 2020, the victim's lawsuit was successful by default. That left only a damages trial.

The victim testified at the damages trial. Rogers, who represented himself, did not question him, Keller said.

The damages trial was held in state Supreme Court in Rochester and presided over by state Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano Jr.

The jury award was millions more than sought, Keller said. The jury awarded $30 million for past pain and suffering, $15 million for future pain and suffering, and $50 million in punitive damages, which are a separate penalizing judgment.

The diocese in 2019 sought bankruptcy protection after hundreds of claims of abuse by priests and others with diocesan connections. Keller said she could not discuss the bankruptcy and whether the client might be one of those seeking damages.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Former Rochester priest Foster Rogers ordered to pay $95M in CVA award