Victims Group, Diocese Clash over Lawsuits

By John Zukowski
The Express-Times [Allentown PA]
May 11, 2004

A victims' rights group has urged the Allentown Catholic Diocese to let lawsuits filed by five alleged abuse victims move forward. The suits will be heard Wednesday at Lehigh County Courthouse.

In a letter to Allentown Diocese Bishop Edward P. Cullen, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called on the diocese not to use statute of limitations arguments to dismiss the suits.

"There are other dioceses that haven't used hardball legal tactics and I would encourage the diocese to take the moral high ground and do what's best for the victims," said David Cerulli, a former Allentown resident and a SNAP member in New York. In 1991, Cerulli reached a $40,000 settlement with the Allentown Diocese after he filed an abuse suit.

Joseph Leeson, the attorney representing the Allentown Diocese in the lawsuit, said Monday he would argue the lawsuits should be dismissed because they were not filed by the 20th birthdays of the alleged victims.

However, the attorney representing the five alleged victims said he would argue that the statute of limitations argument doesn't apply to the lawsuits.

"We feel the statute of limitations has no application because of the evidence of fraud and a cover-up," said Reading-area attorney Jay N. Abramowitch. "They put pedophile priests in positions without warning any one."

In January 2004, Abramowitch represented five people who initiated the lawsuits. The alleged abuse victims are seeking more than $750,000 each and named the Allentown Diocese and bishops Edward P. Cullen and Thomas J. Welsh as defendants.

The lawsuits claim that five priests, many with ties to Northampton County and the Lehigh Valley, abused the plaintiffs when they were children between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Accused in the lawsuits were the Rev. Richard Giuliani, Monsignor William E. Jones, the Rev. Frank Fromholzer, Monsignor Dennis Rigney and the Rev. Michael Lawrence. The abuse is alleged to have occurred at several locations in Pennsylvania.

In January, diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said none of the allegations represent new claims, that they have all been investigated before and that all the priests have retired from active ministry.

Cerulli said he was concerned about the suits being dismissed because of statute of limitation arguments.

The statute of limitations outlining when criminal charges and civil suits can be filed varies from state to state. New Jersey, for instance, has no statute of limitations. SNAP is working to encourage states to change regulations for abuse claims, Cerulli said.

"I'd like to see statute of limitations eliminated for sex crimes against kids," Cerulli said.

He also criticized what he said were dioceses making decisions about abuse suits solely on what is legally required.

"There's been some real damage to innocent lives and it seems only fair that bishops take a pastoral approach rather than that of a CEO of a corporation," Cerulli said.


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