Schuylkill County man sues former Allentown Diocese priest for sexual abuse
By Beth Brelje
November 12, 2018
The 29-year-old alleges the priest, who had ties to Berks County churches, abused him at a Carbon County church between 1999 and 2001.
A 29-year-old Schuylkill County man is accusing a former Allentown Diocese priest with ties to six Berks County churches and schools of sexually abusing him at a Carbon County church between 1999 and 2001.
The man, identified in the lawsuit as “John Doe,” claims that church officials failed to protect him from a known pedophile and that, when he was 10 to 12 years old, he was abused by the Rev. Bruno M. Tucci at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Nesquehoning.
Tucci served in Berks County between 1971 and 1981.
A state grand jury report released in August detailing hundreds of abuse cases in the church mentions a victim reporting abuse by Tucci in 1977-78 but does not identify the location.
The suit was filed electronically Monday in Lehigh County Court, said Philadelphia attorney Gerald J. Williams, who is representing the 29-year-old. The courthouse was closed Monday for Veterans Day, so the filing will not appear docketed until Tuesday.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation from Tucci, the diocese, former Allentown Bishop Edward P. Cullen, current Allentown Bishop Alfred A. Schlert and the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, a Missouri-based rehabilitation organization with a location in New Mexico for priests accused of sexual abuse.
The Allentown Diocese responded in an emailed statement Monday.
“Since becoming bishop on August 31, 2017, Bishop Alfred Schlert has acted immediately on any allegations, removing the priest from ministry and notifying law enforcement,” it said. “Abuse is abhorrent and has no place in the church. Bishop Schlert has apologized to victims and has set a clear tone of zero tolerance, and of keeping children safe.”
According to the suit:
The diocese was notified in 1991 by a 14-year-old boy that Tucci had molested him several years earlier.
Tucci admitted to the allegations. The diocese did not discipline him or inform parishioners of the misconduct.
Tucci was sent to the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete for treatment. He was cleared and discharged several months later with no recommendations for supervision or further treatment.
Servants of the Paraclete was regularly used by the diocese to house, evaluate and treat priests who were known sex offenders and child abusers. Employees at the institution were not licensed professionals.
Tucci was returned to active ministry in the same parishes, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where he had regular contact with children.
In 1993, the victim who had initially complained reiterated to church officials his complaint and concerns for other potential victims but nothing changed.
The lawsuit also alleges that because the diocese failed to take action, Tucci was serving at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and had the opportunity to victimize John Doe, who was an altar boy there.
On one occasion, the lawsuit says, Tucci instructed Doe to put his arms out like Jesus on the cross. When he complied, Tucci unbuttoned Doe's pants and molested him.
Doe's youth, Catholic upbringing and the devout Catholicism of his family weakened his ability to resist Tucci or report the misconduct, especially given Tucci's status as a priest and the accompanying moral authority. That caused him to suppress his feelings about his traumatic experience, exacerbating its psychological and social consequences, the suit said.
Because of this, John Doe's suit says, he has suffered chronic mental health issues, drug addiction, alcoholism and a deterioration in his academic and behavioral performance. These factors led him to act out in destructive ways, including criminal conduct resulting in his arrest, conviction and probation on drug-related charges in 2012.
The suit claims the diocese was negligent in supervising priests and accuses it of providing priests with cover and rationalizations for abusive misconduct.
Tucci retired in 2002, was removed from the priesthood in 2007 and now lives in Salisbury, Md.
The Catholic Church has advocated for a victims compensation fund administered by the church that would be less costly than lawsuits settled by attorneys or juries.
“The diocese recently announced the formation of a compensation and reconciliation program to assist victims and survivors of past clergy sexual abuse,” the statement from the Allentown Diocese said. “Although compensation alone cannot repair the damage caused to those who were harmed, this program will meaningfully assist in recovery and healing for victims and survivors and their families.”
Williams, Doe's attorney, calls the victims fund a good first step for the church because it is acknowledging responsibility for the abuse, but he said it is not the proper solution.
“To permit the church, which committed the wrong, to decide what the compensation would be, is another way of keeping things in the dark that should be brought to light,” Williams said.
Doe came forward after seeing how many victims were mentioned in the grand jury report, Williams said.
“He felt he had to do something,” the attorney said.
In 2002, Pennsylvania's statute of limitations was changed to allow victims of childhood abuse to sue until age 30. At 29, Doe was running out of time to sue.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat and a victim of childhood sexual abuse, has pushed for a temporary window of time that would allow victims outside the time frame to bring suit against their abusers.
“Very few of the victims and survivors described in the grand jury report are within the statute of limitations,” Williams said. “They will be left in the cold if the statute is not changed.”