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  Abuse in 1980s Alleged
Lawsuit: Priest Molested Local Girl

By R. Scott Rappold
York Sunday News (York, PA)
April 7, 2002

An alleged pedophile priest was transferred by the Harrisburg diocese in the 1980s to an area church where he sexually abused several more children, according to a lawsuit filed last year by a former York County woman.

The lawsuit, which includes a stinging indictment of past Roman Catholic church policies, was filed last summer, months before allegations began to surface around the world about Catholic priests abusing child- ren and church leaders covering up such incidents.

While diocesan officials would not comment on this or any other specific cases, they say a policy instituted five years ago helps to ensure it could not happen again.

"I think the Harrisburg diocese is ahead of the curve," agreed Harrisburg attorney Robert Claraval, who represented two other alleged victims of the same priest. "The way they handle them now seems to be better than the way they reacted back then."

The lawsuit filed by Nykkia Colello, 21, a former Conewago Township resident now living in Hawaii, was settled out of court last November for an undisclosed sum.

The Harrisburg diocese, which serves 250,000 Catholics in 15 central Pennsylvania counties, including York and Adams, has acknowledged 11 confirmed cases of abuse over the past five decades. As of 1989, it had paid out $1.2 million in damages to victims of abuse.

Filed suit: Last summer, Colello accused the late Rev. Augustine Giella, pastor of St. John's Parish in Enhaut of sexually abusing her and at least two other girls. The parish is located in Dauphin County outside Steelton.

Her lawsuit claimed Giella had been brought here as part of a Catholic church policy to shuffle around problem priests.

He was transferred to St. John's from New Jersey in 1982 and served as the pastor of the parish until 1989.

Claraval represented two other families who threatened legal action against the diocese because of alleged abuse by Giella. The diocese settled out of court in both cases as well, Claraval said.

Police in Swatara Township said they began investigating Giella in the summer of 1992, after a victim's family reported sexual abuse. Giella had retired in 1989 and moved to a retirement community in Toms River, N.J.

However, one Pennsylvania family had continued to visit him, and authorities allege he continued to sexually abuse one girl until 1992.

He was arrested in July 1992 and subsequently indicted by a grand jury in Ocean County, N.J., on 11 counts relating to child molestation and child pornography.

Pennsylvania charges were never filed, and Giella died within four months of the indictment, so the case did not make it to trial.

Church officials had no comment on Giella or last year's lawsuit.

"That case was settled and is subject to a confidentiality agreement between the parties, under which neither admitted the charges of the other and that's all I can say," diocesan spokeswoman Carol Houghton said last week.

Court papers, meanwhile, paint a picture of a church hierarchy that knew Giella was a pedophile and brought him to Pennsylvania anyway to administer a parish and teach children.

Knew of molestation: The lawsuit claims Giella "sexually terrorized, molested and abused one or more families of children" in his New Jersey parish, the location of which was not identified in court papers.

While Giella had never been charged with molesting any New Jersey children, the suit claimed church officials "knew of Father Giella's past molestation, abuse and terrorization of children, but did not banish him from the Roman Catholic priesthood. Rather, they appointed Father Giella to a parish in defendant Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and allowed Father Giella to teach in St. John's Elementary School."

Colello's suit claims that, for several years, Giella sexually abused her at various locations, including his vacation home in New Jersey, a Harrisburg hotel and the church rectory.

The suit alleges he fondled her, showed her pornographic pictures and laid on his bed naked in view of her, among other acts. It claims she suffered "severe mental anguish and trauma necessitating extensive psychiatric medical care and treatment in the past, present and undoubtedly in the future."

Claraval said he could not discuss the cases of alleged abuse by Giella that he handled.

"The families, obviously, were really torn up by this, and plus there's a confidentiality agreement," Claraval said. "The church doesn't want this information out there and certainly the victim doesn't want this information to be publicly available."

At the time of Giella's arrest, the Asbury Park Press newspaper reported he *JUMPSTART* ABUSE 2/A15

 
 

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