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Suit alleges sexual abuse by slain Island churchman: State Supreme Court filing asking for damages of $20M

A North Carolina man has filed suit in New York State Supreme Court against the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island and two Long Island Episcopal parishes for $20 million, alleging that when he was a boy, he was sexually abused by Rev. Canon Paul Wancura from 1978 to 1985.

In March 2018, the 87-year-old Rev. Wancura, who lived alone, was found in a bedroom of his Silver Beach home, trapped in a corner in a heap between the bed and a wall, with his wrists tightly bound. It was determined that he had been in that state from three to seven days, Shelter Island Police Chief Jim Read said. Rev. Wancura was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital and placed in the intensive care unit.

The Shelter Island Police and Suffolk County Police departments termed the incident a burglary and a home invasion, and listed several items stolen from the home, including a valuable wrist watch.

After enduring multiple blood transfusions and the amputation of his left hand, the elderly priest succumbed to his wounds on April 16, 2018, just short of a month after being found. The official cause of death was sepsis, which is a system-wide infection, usually caused by injuries.

It was the most shocking crime on Shelter Island in memory and soon was designated a homicide.

Retired, Rev. Wancura had assisted with services in several Episcopal parishes, including Holy Trinity in Greenport and Caroline in Setauket. It was there that Lew H. Crispin III of Buncombe County, North Carolina, alleges in the suit that Rev. Wancura abused and sexually assaulted him on a “regular and ongoing basis for a period of approximately seven years, beginning around 1978, when Plaintiff was about eight years old, and ending in or about 1985, when Plaintiff, then about 15 years old, was baptized and confirmed and then immediately ceased attending Caroline Church, never to return.”

The suit claims church officials were aware, or should have been aware, that Rev. Wancura was a sexual predator of children. Rev. Wancura, the suit alleges, “was under the supervision, employ, direction, and/or control” of the diocese and the Caroline Episcopal Church of Setauket, and “owed a duty” to protect Mr. Crispin “and other persons in their care or custody from the Reverend’s propensity to molest children. Defendants knew, or were negligent in not knowing, that the Reverend posed a threat of sexual abuse to children. Defendants also failed to take appropriate measures to evaluate the Reverend’s employment and fitness at the time he was assigned to and permitted to serve at Caroline Church.”

Denise Fillion, director of communication for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, told the Reporter in a statement that Bishop Lawrence Provenzano “is deeply concerned about the allegations outlined in the lawsuit and has referred this matter to the diocesan attorney.”

Represented by his attorney, Gil Santamarina of Manhattan, Mr. Crispin is seeking $20 million in damages that the abuse, he claims, “caused and will continue to cause Plaintiff to suffer severe and permanent damages, including but not limited to physical injury and mental and emotional distress.”

Over the past three years, there have been no arrests, and no suspects identified for the homicide in Silver Beach. The Shelter Island Police and the Suffolk County Police departments say the investigation is “active.”

Chief Read, within a few days of the crime, said it was “not a random incident.” Detective Lieutenant Kevin Beyrer, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department’s homicide squad, has confirmed that assessment.

“There were elements of the crime that led us to believe that, whoever did this, planned it and knew what they were doing going into it,” Det. Beyrer has told the Reporter. “We don’t believe that the person or persons who did this thought they were going into an unoccupied house.”

A memorial service was held at a packed St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on the Island a month after Rev. Wancura died in May 2018. Speaker after speaker, from the Island and from Caroline parish, rose to testify to the deceased churchman’s kindness, empathy, humanity, sense of community and commitment to others.