Suit Says Diocese Protected Priests

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh PA]
February 5, 2004

Three new court complaints claim that the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh conspired to protect priests who molested minors.

The suit is against the diocese not the priests. It attempts to circumvent the statute of limitations, which gives victims of child sexual abuse until the age of 20 to file suit. Attorneys Richard Serbin and Alan Perer argue that because none of the victims discovered the conspiracy until March 2002, the statute of limitations has not expired.

The suit alleges that the Rev. Ralph J. Esposito, 63, molested a boy at Mother of Sorrows parish in McKees Rocks for three years, beginning in 1973 when the boy was 10.

According to its spokesman, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the diocese never received an allegation against Esposito, who transferred to the Diocese of Little Rock in 1978. The Rev. Francis Malone, vicar general of Little Rock, said no one had ever complained to his diocese about Esposito, who retired two years ago. Retired Little Rock Bishop Andrew McDonald "would never have accepted a priest if there had been any allegation of this kind," Malone said.

A former priest, John Wellinger, is accused of molesting an 11- or 12-year-old boy at Holy Spirit parish in West Mifflin in 1989. According to Lengwin, an accuser appeared three months after Wellinger took a personal leave in June 1995. That person was offered counseling. Wellinger, then 51, never returned to ministry, Lengwin said.

The oldest accusation is against the late Rev. William J. McCashin, who died in 1967. The complaint alleges that McCashin molested an 8-year-old boy at St. Philip parish, Crafton, in 1965, when McCashin would have been 75. The diocese did not receive an accusation until April 2002, and the accuser was given counseling, Lengwin said.


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