Eight Claiming Abuse Sue Pittsburgh Diocese; One Suit Filed in Allentown

Associated Press, carried in Centre Daily [Pittsburgh PA]
September 29, 2004

PITTSBURGH - Eight people who claim they were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests sued the Pittsburgh Diocese on Wednesday.

The people, who ranged in age from 8 to 15 when the alleged abuse began, filed civil suits in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against the diocese, Bishop Donald Wuerl and Philadelphia's former archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. The alleged abusers are not named in the suits because the statute of limitations to file such claims against them have expired.

Lawyers representing the victims said the diocese protected and reassigned priests that were involved in abusing children.

Alan Perer, an attorney representing the alleged victims, said the new cases brings the number of lawsuits against the diocese regarding priest abuse to 33. All those suits were still pending as of Wednesday, he said.

In a statement released by the diocese, church officials said all of the allegations in the lawsuits against the diocese involve priests removed from the ministry or who have died.

"To (the diocese's) knowledge and under the leadership of Bishop Wuerl, there is no priest serving in ministry today in the diocese against whom there is a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor," the diocese stated.

"Today's filing is nothing more than another step in a publicity campaign by these attorneys to gain notoriety for litigation regarding a conspiracy that never existed."

On Tuesday, another lawsuit was filed in Berks County Court against the Allentown Diocese.

In that suit, Diana L. Vojtasek, 30, of Blandon, claims she was sexually abused by the Rev. James Gaffney while attending Reading Central Catholic High School, where he was vice principal and disciplinarian.

The abuse began in 1990 and continued for two years, the lawsuit contends.

Gaffney is accused in the suit but is not named as a defendant because the two-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims has expired. He is the 11th diocesan priest accused of abuse in 13 lawsuits filed in Lehigh, Berks and Schuylkill counties since January.

The defendants are the diocese, Bishop Edward Cullen, retired Bishop Thomas J. Welsh and the high school. The school referred questions to the diocese, which issues a statement denying culpability and noting that an investigation two years ago by district attorneys in five counties revealed no prosecutable cases.


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