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  Former Student Accuses Priest of Sexual Assault

By Torsten Ove and Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 3, 2002

Charles Hartz Jr., 38, was 16 years old in 1980 and a student at Geibel Catholic High School in Connellsville when he says the abuse began.

For two years, he said, the Rev. Gregory F. Premoshis sexually assaulted him repeatedly while Premoshis taught at the school.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court, Hartz accused Premoshis, the former president of Geibel, of being a "sexual predator" who provided him with alcohol and then molested him.

In addition to Premoshis, defendants are the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Greensburg.

The suit says Premoshis, who also served as a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Connellsville, abused Hartz on many occasions in 1981 and 1982 in the rectory where Premoshis lived and in other states, including Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina.

Hartz's attorney, Helen Kotler, filed the suit in federal court because Premoshis is accused of abusing Hartz in several states.

Kotler said she hoped the more generous statutes of limitations in some of the other states would help move the case forward.

In the suit, Hartz said Premoshis showered him with gifts, ingratiated himself to his parents and gave him so much alcohol that he ended up in a "stuporous state," allowing the priest to easily "obtain sexual gratification with the unwilling plaintiff."

Hartz also claimed the diocese knew about the abuse but covered it up by not telling authorities or disclosing it to parents of other children attending Geibel.

"Premoshis and the diocese, and its priests, although they knew of events where priests had sexually abused minors, had adopted a policy where they failed to report said abuse to the proper authorities as required by law," the suit says.

Diocesan spokeswoman Angela Burrows denied the diocese had prior knowledge of the abuse.

In March, the diocese turned over information to Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck on 12 cases involving allegations of improper conduct with boys between 1962 and 1982.

Hartz says Premoshis' name wasn't included, but Burrows said none of the names was included. She said the diocese offered names to Peck when they gave him summaries of the cases, but Peck said he didn't need the names at the time.

The names were not released to the public because there had been no court case, so the accusations fell under the diocese's standard policy of confidentiality in personnel matters, Burrows said.

Hartz, who now lives in Michigan, couldn't be reached yesterday.

His suit said the assaults led to psychological problems later in life, including depression, anxiety and self-doubt, which he related to a psychologist last month. The psychologist told him the problems were typical for those who suffer sexual abuse.

In Virginia, the date when problems are first revealed to a mental health professional is the date when the clock starts ticking under its statute of limitations, which allows an adult victim two years to file a case. In South Carolina, the statute of limitations is three years from the time when the victim first realizes that the childhood sexual abuse caused long-lasting harm.

Hartz said he decided in February to report the incidents to the Rev. Roger Statnick, vicar general of the diocese. He said he also reported it to law enforcement officials in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.

Four days after a preliminary inquiry indicated that the allegation might be substantiated, Premoshis was placed on administrative leave, Burrows said.

After a second inquiry that included a psychiatric evaluation, a diocesan board consisting of an attorney, a school principal, a priest and two experts in the field of sexual violence recommended that he be permanently banned from ministry.

He was given 15 days to appeal his case to Bishop Anthony Bosco before the ban became final July 11. He is not permitted to identify himself as a priest in any way.

At the time of his dismissal from ministry, Premoshis was president of Geibel. Since then, the Rev. Dan Blout, president of Greensburg Central Catholic High School, has served as acting president.

Burrows declined comment on Premoshis' guilt or innocence.

"We went through our due process in the diocese and now they need to go through due process in the civil courts," she said. "The diocese is sensitive to the victims. We are sensitive to the families. We have compassion for the priests. We have compassion for all involved. It is not an easy situation for anyone."

Burrows said officials reviewed all old personnel files of its priests shortly before Hartz contacted the diocese, and Premoshis' file was not among the six that attracted attention.

"There was nothing in his file, literally nothing," she said. "The first the diocese learned of it was when the alleged victim called the diocese."

In the suit, Hartz also accused the diocese of transferring Premoshis from Greensburg Central Catholic to Geibel because of prior misconduct, citing other cases from around the country in which church officials shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish.

Burrows said Premoshis was ordained in 1968 and a year later was assigned to teach religion at Greensburg Central Catholic, where he remained for 11 years.

She said she didn't know why he was transferred to a similar position at Geibel in 1980, but that there was nothing odd about moving a young priest who had been in one place for so long.

 
 

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