Diocese Calls Suits 'Extortion'

By Michael Hasch
Pittsburgh Tribune [Pittsburgh PA]
July 9, 2004

Two lawyers filing lawsuits on behalf of individuals claiming to have been sexually abused by priests are making "extortion-like demands for money," the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh charged Thursday.

Attorneys Richard Serbin and Alan Perer also appear to be making "attempts to unduly influence a potential jury pool" and seem interested in trying "their case in the media" instead of the courts, according to a prepared release from the diocese.

According to the statement:

"The concern of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is that Serbin and Perer have issued an ongoing stream of materials characterized by:

Nonfactual claims and outright distortions to misinform media.

Attacks on priests long-deceased against whom there had never been accusations of sexual misconduct.

Blatant public relations campaigns designed to generate spin that has nothing to do with the merits of their charges of conspiracy against the Diocese of Pittsburgh and its bishops."

Serbin, of Altoona, Blair County, is involved in lawsuits filed by individuals against the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia and the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, as well as the diocese in Pittsburgh.

Perer works with the Downtown law firm Swensen Perer & Kontos and is involved in the local cases, which include 25 complaints against 14 former and current priests. Six of the priests are deceased.

Neither Serbin nor Perer could be reached for comment.

Only a few of the lawsuits have been filed against individual priests because the statute of limitations has passed in the majority of the cases, many of which involve allegations that occurred decades ago.

Instead, the lawsuits, including those in Pittsburgh, have been filed against the diocese, the current bishop and former bishops still active in the church hierarchy.

Each suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages plus interest and costs.

"Any amount of money would be an extortion, we thought, in terms of the facts of the case belying the allegations they are making," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese.

"Serbin and Perer have consistently charged in these lawsuits that the diocese and Bishop Donald Wuerl have engaged in a conspiracy to knowingly move priests accused of the sexual abuse of minors from parish to parish."

"They have conducted a kind of public relations campaign, making all kinds of allegations with no proof of these allegations," Lengwin said.

"Six of the 14 priests are dead. They don't have an opportunity to defend their name. While they were living, no allegations were made against them.

"There is no proof that anyone witnessed any of these allegations. We believe this is unfair. At the same time, we can't stand by and allow the good name of the church to be attacked or the good name of our bishop."

Lengwin stressed that the diocese's statement is not directed against those who are making the allegations. "This is directed against the lawyers and how they are conducting themselves."

He repeated televised appeals by Wuerl inviting those who have suffered abuse at the hands of priests to come forward so that the diocese can attempt to verify the allegation, take appropriate action and provide counseling for the victim.

Michael Hasch can be reached at or (412) 320-7820.


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