Suit alleges ‘Father Gerry’ sexually abused boys in his care

— Enterprise file photo
Gerald Miller made a cameo appearance in a front-page Altamont Enterprise photo in 1983 as he watched a couple — who asked not to be pictured with this story — demonstrate cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, at a class in Altamont.

ALBANY COUNTY — Gerald R. Miller, once known as “Father Gerry” to Altamont and Hilltown residents, has been accused of sexually assaulting two boys who had lived in his group home in Knox in the 1980s.

Attorneys Martin Smalline and JoAnn Harri filed a complaint in May on behalf of their clients; a narrative attached to the complaint describes how the men were drugged and raped as teenagers by Miller. The Enterprise is withholding the names of the men because of its policy protecting potential victims of sexual crimes.

The complaint was filed not only against Miller, but also against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and former Bishop Howard Hubbard. The complaint states that the plaintiffs are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined in court.

Miller and Hubbard could not be reached for comment before press time.

Up until this year, the two plaintiffs — who are now 49 and 51 years old — would not have been able to take legal action, as the state’s statute of limitations had previously ranged between one to five years after a plaintiff turned 18. The passage of the Child Victims Act earlier this year now allows anyone up to age 55 to file a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse.

The Child Victims Act also allows a one-year period for claims to be filed regardless of the age of the plaintiff. This “look-back” period begins in mid-August, Harri told The Enterprise. She said it has been debated whether claims of those under the age of 55 can be issued before then.


The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
The La Salette shrine, which sits on the shoulder of the Helderberg escarpment above Altamont, is now overgrown. Father Gerald Miller, of the La Salette order, came to Altamont where he served as a parish priest in Berne and Altamont, organized youth events, and ran a group home where troubled teenage boys resided. Two of these now-grown men say that Miller sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers.


Miller’s attorney, Eric K. Schillinger, filed a motion for dismissal so that litigation would not start until August for this reason, said Harri; the Diocese of Albany did not issue such a motion, and agreed that delaying court action was unnecessary, said Harri. Schillinger did not return a call for comment before press time. Defendants have until August 15 to either admit or deny the allegations, or to make a motion, said Harri.

Miller, the director of the La Salette Christian Life Center in Altamont from 1979 to 1987, also worked for the Albany Diocese as the parish priest for St. Lucy’s Church in Altamont and St. Bernadette’s Church in Berne during that time, according to the complaint. The two parishes later merged after the Berne church closed in 2009, and the parish is now overseen by Sister Mary Lou Liptak in Altamont.

La Salette missionaries purchased property and a house on the shoulder of the Helderberg escarpment above Altamont in 1924 before eventually selling most of the complex to Father Peter Young of the Albany Diocese and his organization in the 1980s, according to the La Salette website. Father Ron Gagne, the director of communications for La Salette, declined to comment on the allegations against Miller.

Harri told The Enterprise on Monday that narratives describing each of the plaintiffs’ experiences in Miller’s custody was sent to the Albany Diocese. The complaint, which includes the narratives, argues that Hubbard and the Albany Diocese should have been aware of child endangerment in the group home, stating that an inspection should have revealed the boys were being given alcohol and marijuana due to the home being littered with bottles and cans and smelling of marijuana.

The complaint also describes a king-sized waterbed with satin sheets and a bench in Miller’s room.

“If they didn’t know, they should have known … ,” Harri told The Enterprise. “It was pretty apparent.”

Mary DeTurris Poust, the director of communications for the Albany Diocese, said in an email to The Enterprise that the diocese did receive such materials, which were then forwarded to the Albany County District Attorney’s office as well as the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator. DeTurris Poust wrote that, due to the litigation, the diocese could not comment further. She added that the diocese would “do everything possible to cooperate with the investigation,” and said that the diocese would be conducting its own investigation.

“If legal recourse is part of the path toward healing, we respect that decision and will continue to work to assist all those who have survived sexual abuse, whether at the hands of clergy, lay employees, volunteers, or family members,” she wrote.

When asked about whether the district attorney’s office would be investigating the claims, a statement from District attorney David Soares was sent to The Enterprise, noting that the office is reviewing complaints within the county’s jurisdiction and encouraging all county district attorneys to work with the state attorney general’s office to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese.

“The passage of the Child Victims Act is certainly a step in the right direction to allow for some form of relief, and at the very least, to acknowledge the immense harm done to so many innocent victims that the laws have failed to protect … ,” the statement from Soares says. “Past victims and current victims deserve to have their complaints investigated and those who have committed these horrific crimes must be held accountable.”


The allegations

Miller’s duties in the church, from 1979 to 1987, included teen programming and conducting sacraments such as first communion, including offering first communion to a plaintiff’s younger sister, according to the complaint.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Miller began living with teenage boys in a group home, first in Altamont before a boy living there burned it down, and then in Knox. The group home in Knox had a lower level equipped with a fireplace, pool table, and bunk beds. The boys, who were brought from various parishes in the Albany diocese, drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and played pool, according to the complaint.

While the plaintiffs lived in the group home with Miller, many of their classmates at Guilderland High School, as well as teachers and administrators, often referred to them and other boys in the home as “‘Gerry’s Boys,’ a group distinct from the general student population,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs were 16 and 15 when they started living at the group home, according to the complaint. One had known Miller since he was an altar boy at age 10. The other, the 16-year-old, met him after being sent to a retreat center in Altamont. Miller gave him his pager number, telling him “You will come and live with me soon,” the complaint says.

The 16-year-old began staying with Miller after he ran away from home following a fight with his brother in 1984.

The other boy was bailed out by Miller after an arrest — at age 15, in 1985, he was caught and charged with stealing dirt bikes and breaking into a convenience store with friends, the court papers say. He began staying with Miller in 1986 during his criminal proceedings.

The two boys shared a bedroom across from Miller’s room.

Court papers describe events unfolding this way:

On each of their first days at the group home, Miller had treated both of the boys to whatever expensive clothing they wanted from Crossgates Mall. He took the older boy out for dinner and drinks, and offered to let the younger boy, who was traumatized from his time in jail, sleep and watch television in his bed for comfort.

But it was only a matter of weeks before Miller would begin to sexually assault the boys. He would give the older boy an open wine bottle of Bartles & Jaymes that appeared to have been laced with methaqualone, or quaaludes, that left him unable to move, the report states.

The court papers include a graphic description of Miller’s first sexual assault  on the older boy in his king-size waterbed. “When [name withheld] woke up after the rape,” the allegations say, “Father Gerry had left in his car, taking the other boys in the Home with him to conduct mass, which he required the boys to attend every Sunday, at either St. Lucy’s or St. Bernadette’s Churches.”

The court papers also allege, “Similar sexual assaults involving anal and oral sex repeated approximately once a month, each time with the open drugged wine cooler, ensuing immobility, rape, and morning evidence, consisting of blood, other bodily fluids, and waste in his underwear.”

The younger boy, who was on probation and drug-tested regularly, was threatened with being returned to jail if he did not comply with the sexual assault.

The boys were later taken to Agawam, Massachusetts, and Atlanta, Georgia, where they were forced to have sex with Miller as well as another man known only as “Father Jim” in what the court papers describe as “in a brutal gang rape manner.”

After the second time he was raped by Miller, the 16-year-old had a panic attack while at Guilderland High School, and ran off into a field and contemplated climbing a barbed-wire fence along a neighboring industrial park before hearing the voices of the principal, guidance counselor, and Miller. He dropped out of school that day. The sexual assaults continued on a monthly basis after that, the report states.

The younger boy told his probation officer that Miller had been raping him and another boy but, according to the allegations made in court papers, he was told to stay at the group home or he would be sent to jail. He eventually escaped with the help of a neighbor in the spring of 1987, the complaint says.

Shortly after, the older boy escaped out an open window from the La Salette Christian Life Center where he and the others from the group home had started living. The boy had just attended the wedding of a handyman who had worked at the Knox group home.

Wearing a suit and no shoes, he ran into the village center to call the handyman on a payphone, who picked him up in the limousine rented for the wedding, the complaint says. He stayed at the groom’s home that night, the court papers say, after which he moved on to the homes of various other friends.

Neither the former neighbor or former handyman returned calls for comment before press time.

Miller left the Altamont center later that year. In an Enterprise article written in July 1987, Miller said that he met with La Salette superiors in the spring who told him he was reaching the end of his seven-year tenure in Altamont, and offered him a position in a parish in Marietta, Georgia, starting in August of that year. Miller told The Enterprise that he accepted the offer.

“It’s really been a struggle,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much of a struggle until the last of the kids left and I realized how exhausted I was.” He later added that the move would bring him closer to family in North Carolina.

John Addyman had written for The Enterprise about Miller’s departure as well as his work at the center, where he toured empty dorm rooms, classrooms, and cafeterias. Addyman, who now is the owner and managing editor of a newspaper in Wayne County, was also a member of the St. Lucy’s congregation, but said he knew little about Miller outside of the sermons he gave every other week, alternating between there and St. Bernadette’s church.

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.