Women Sue Diocese over Abuse

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
September 4, 1993

Seven women are suing the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, claiming they were molested decades ago by a now-deceased priest in an Avon Lake parish.

Linda Rae Lotko-Toth of Avon Lake, Laura Livingston of Oxford, O., and five unnamed Avon Lake women filed the suit yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit claims the Rev. Carl Wernet "sexually abused, molested, raped, assaulted and/or battered" the women between 1955 and 1965, while they were students at St. Joseph Elementary School and parishioners of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

The women claim the diocese knew or should have known that Wernet was likely to commit the alleged acts and ratified or concealed his behavior.

The women stated that they suffered severe and permanent physical pain, mental anguish and emotional distress, and lost work time and expenses for medical and psychiatric care.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. Wernet died about 10 years ago.

In a story in The Plain Dealer last year, Toth's father, Ray Lotko, said his wife, Marie, had told him that Wernet had molested their daughter. He said he confronted the priest, who admitted his guilt.

Toth said she suppressed the memories of abuse until 1991. When the recollections became clearer, she hung "Wanted" posters in Avon Lake stores seeking "Adult Victims/Survivors of Acts of Molestation/Rape Perpetrated by Fr. Carl Wernet," and placed newspaper ads.

Toth went to the diocese in September 1991. She was referred to a therapist and the church paid for her counseling, diocese lawyer Santiago Feliciano said last year.

Feliciano also denied then that there had been a cover-up and said Wernet's personnel file did not contain any allegations of misconduct. "I'm not invalidating her story," but no other victims had come forward, he said at the time.

Toth said in March that she was forming a referral service for victims of clergy abuse to be called Survivors of Clergy Abuse Reachout.

The five unnamed women do not want to be identified because they have children in Catholic schools, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks for a minimum of $25,000 in compensatory damages for each of the plaintiffs and an undetermined amount in punitive damages.


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