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  Suit Claims Diocese of Allentown Covered up Abuse
Three Priests with Local Ties Accused

By Precious Petty
The Express-Times [Allentown PA]
July 23, 2004

Three victims of alleged sexual abuse filed lawsuits Thursday against the Diocese of Allentown in Lehigh and Schuylkill County courts.

One woman and two men claim three former priests sexually assaulted them between 1965 and 1978.

All three clergymen accused -- Edward Graff, Francis Fromholzer and Francis McNelis -- have been accused of molesting children before and served in Northampton County and Lehigh County parishes during their careers.

The lawsuits also claim the diocese and its top clergymen concealed ongoing sexual abuse of children by priests.

Bishops Edward P. Cullen and Thomas J. Welsh reassigned the priests to positions where they'd have access to children, despite evidence the men were pedophiles, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits don't call for a specific amount of compensation from the diocese, and the plaintiffs' attorney, Jay N. Abramowitch, said his clients aren't interested in money.

"What they're looking for is for the church to accept responsibility for this cover-up and acknowledge their wrongdoing," Abramowitch said.

"It was not only the predator priests that abused them, but the diocese that covered it up and allowed it to happen," he said.

Abramowitch and Altoona attorney Richard M. Serbin have brought more than a dozen lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests against the Allentown Diocese, including five filed in January and three in March.

In a prepared statement released Thursday, spokesman Matt Kerr denied the Allentown Diocese sought to cover up allegations or prevent alleged victims from reporting incidents to law enforcement authorities.

Citing a 2002 investigation conducted by district attorneys in five counties covered by the diocese, Kerr noted that the diocese was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

"While the Diocese of Allentown regrets that any person may have been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of any cleric, the Diocese does reserve its right to defend itself against charges in this lawsuit," Kerr said.

In his lawsuit, Joseph C. Reisinger alleges Graff forced him to perform sex acts when he was a teen at Annunciation BVM in Catasauqua during the 1970s.

Graff died in prison in November 2002 awaiting court proceedings on charges he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old Texas boy. After his arrest on those charges, about 30 men in Pennsylvania and Texas accused Graff of abusing them when they were 12 to 17 years old. He had retired to Texas in 1992.

He also served at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Easton, St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Pen Argyl, Pius X High School in Bangor and Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown after a 30-year career with the diocese.

Plaintiff Judy Bronstein alleges Fromholzer molested her in 1965 when she was a 13-year-old student at Central Catholic High School in Allentown. In January, another woman sued the Allentown Diocese claiming Fromholzer had abused her when she attended the high school in 1965.

Fromholzer left active ministry in September 2002 and now lives in Naples, Fla.

In the third lawsuit, Robert J. Lucas alleges McNelis forced him to perform sex acts in 1968 when he was a teenager at Annunciation BVM in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County. McNelis was also accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed against the diocese in Schuylkill County earlier this year.

McNelis retired in 2002 and is believed to be living at Holy Family Villa for Priests in Bethlehem. He served 11 parishes, including St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in Hellertown, St. Jane Frances de Chantal then in Wilson Borough and St. Ann in Emmaus.

Abramowitch also filed four lawsuits Thursday against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on behalf of plaintiffs who allege they were sexually abused by priests in Philadelphia and Levittown.

 
 

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