Women Appeal Dismissal of Suit against Erie Diocese

WNEP TV [Erie Pennsylvania]
August 25, 2004

ERIE, Pa. Three woman who claim they were defamed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, its current bishop, and a retired bishop want the state Supreme Court to reinstate thier case.

The state Superior Court last month threw out the case by former diocesan secretary Sally Beres, Ann Caro and Helen Rusnak. In throwing out the suit, the Superior Court upheld an Erie County judge's dismissal.

The women alleged that church officials began a defamation campaign against them when they complained about former priest Robert Bower.

Bower resigned in 2002 after a newspaper report that he had been arrested for possession of child pornography in 1999. Those charges were dropped, prosecutors said, because police mishandled evidence and it could not be used at trial.

The women claimed Bishiop Donald Trautman directed some priests to sermonize against them from the pulpit and characterized the women as liars in a letter he released to the public in 2002.

In September 2003, Erie County President Judge William R. Cunningham dismissed the women's suit, saying that while Trautman's letter was "unnecessarily harsh," his statements and those of retired bishop Michael Murphy didn't rise to the level of defamation.

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