Judge Rules Church Abuse Suit Can Continue

By Matthew Junker
Tribune-Review [Pennsylvania]
November 9, 2004

A Westmoreland County judge has ruled allegations that Roman Catholics covered up abuse of young boys by priests is enough to allow a suit over 24-year-old abuse allegations to continue.

John Morrison, of State College, Centre County, filed suit in February against the St. Vincent Archabbey and other defendants, alleging sexual abuse between 1980 and 1982 at the hands of a substitute parish priest who took him to St. Vincent on a retreat.

Westmoreland County President Judge Daniel J. Ackerman ruled on Oct. 20 that Morrison's claim that the Catholic Church had covered up sexual abuse of boys by priests was enough to allow the allegations to clear the hurdle of an objection over the state's statute of limitations.

"I thought it was a well-reasoned, well-thought-out opinion," said Morrison's attorney, Helen R. Kotler, of Pittsburgh.

The attorney representing the diocese and the archabbey wasn't available for comment.

Ackerman ruled that two counts of the suit were without basis in the allegations and threw them out. But most of the suit, 16 counts, remains for further litigation.

Morrison is seeking an unspecified amount in excess of $30,000 from the Diocese of Johnstown-Altoona, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, former Bishop James Hogan, and St. Vincent Archabbey and its head, Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki.

The Rev. Alvin T. Downey, a psychiatric nurse and monk of the archabbey, allegedly committed the molestation when he was assigned to replace a vacationing priest in Morrison's parish.

Kotler also represents Morrison's mother, Mary Bonson, of Port Matilda, Centre County, who sued in 2003 over the same abuse allegations.

Bonson said she first learned about the abuse in 2002 when she asked Morrison about allegations of sexual abuse by another priest in the family's home parish, St. John's Catholic Church in Bellefonte, also in Centre County. Her son had served as an altar boy there in the early 1980s when he was 17 years old.

Bonson's case also survived pretrial motions and is headed to trial before Westmoreland County Judge Gary P. Caruso.


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