Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse Ask Court to Lift Gag Order Set by Diocese of Harrisburg
By Ivey DeJesus
July 2, 2018
|A spokesman for the Diocese of Harrisburg on Monday told PennLive that the diocese no longer honored gag orders imposed on victims of clergy sex abuse. This 2015 file photo shows Bishop of Harrisburg Ronald Gainer, the head of the diocese. celebrating Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral.(PennLive File)|
Two women who were sexually abused by a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg on Monday petitioned a court to lift a gag order prohibiting them from speaking about their abuse.
Patty Julius and Lara McKeever, who are sisters, filed the motion in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas seeking to overturn an agreement with the diocese that was part of a settlement made with several other sisters years ago.
Julius and McKeever allege that throughout the 1980s the Rev. Augustin Giella sexually molested several members of their family, including they themselves.
Giella served with the diocese in Hanover, but was later assigned to the St. John's parish in Enhaut, in Dauphin County. The complaint identifies Julius and McKeever as residents of Pennsylvania.
The motion was filed amid a temporary stay from the state's highest court on a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court halted the release of the report two weeks ago to give itself time to consider whether it will hear the appeals of individuals named in the report. The unnamed individuals argue that their right to due process would be harmed if the report was released.
The report - which remains under seal - details the findings of an 18-month-long investigation into clergy sex abuse across six dioceses in Pennsylvania. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is expected on Monday to file a motion to the court seeking to lift the temporary block to the report.
According to the court complaint, in 1992, a 12-year-old child came forward and reported Giella's abuse. The priest was charged with multiple counts of child abuse but died while awaiting trial. Subsequently, another sister also came forward and reported her abuse at the hands of Giella.
In 1994 and 1995, the family of the girls entered into a settlement with the Diocese of Harrisburg that included a broad confidentiality agreement prohibiting the members of the family from speaking publicly about the settlement and broadly about the abuse.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that they were adults at the time their family signed the agreement, "so their parents were not acting as their legal guardians or representatives."
Julius and McKeever are petitioning the court to rule that they are not bound by the confidentiality provisions of their sisters' settlement agreements. Julius and McKeever did not receive any monetary compensation as part of the settlement entered into by their family.
Mike Barley, a spokesman for the Diocese of Harrisburg said the action was moot.
"Since 2002 and the enactment of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, it has been the policy of the Diocese of Harrisburg not to enforce non-disclosure agreements and we won't in this case either," he said in a statement to PennLive.
Benjamin Andreozzi, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, on Monday said his clients' complaint underscores compelling arguments. He said his clients wants their voices to be heard and they want to expose predators.
"Should the church be binding these two sisters?" Andreozzi said. "It's one thing not to go out and talk about money. It's another to say 'we are not going to let you talk about one of most traumatic experiences you can have.' You can imagine the pain and suffering not being able to share that pain and grief."
Andreozzi questioned whether it was "humane" for victims who did not receive monetary compensation to be bound to a gag order.
"Is it fair for the church or any other institution to gag survivors from being able to tell their story when an institution should know these is going to stunt their recovery?" he said.
Victims and victims advocates have argued that blocking the report stands to further traumatize victims of clergy sex abuse.
Last year, the dioceses of Harrisburg and Greensburg sought to block the grand jury investigation, with church officials arguing that the creation of the grand jury lacked a legal justification. That finding was first reported by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
To date, two priests have been arrested as a result of the grand jury investigation: Father David Poulson of the Diocese of Erie, and Father John Sweeney of the Diocese of Greensburg.
Andreozzi said it is possible that additional motions could be filed by other sisters. He described the family of the plaintiffs as being a large family of women.