5 Men Say Priest Abused Them in '70s and '80s, in New Lawsuit

By James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
September 19, 2002

Five former members of an urban youth group sued the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland yesterday and the priest they say sexually abused them.

The lawsuit is the third filed against the Rev. Joseph Romansky and brings to nine the number of accusers who say the priest molested them when they were teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Romansky, 50, is among 15 priests the diocese has suspended since April amid allegations of sexual misconduct. He had been chaplain at St. Augustine Manor on Detroit Road since 1995.

After filing the lawsuit yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, two of the accusers joined their lawyers outside the Justice Center. The suit refers to the three other unnamed accusers as John Does.

"I looked up to Father Joe as a big brother," said William Harrison, 42. "I'm ashamed of what he did to me."

Attorneys William Crosby of Cleveland and Jeffrey Anderson of Minneapolis said they suspect that Romansky molested dozens of teenagers from 1975 until 1995. But they lay equal blame on diocesan officials, claiming church leaders knew about Romansky's crimes and, rather than stopping him, sent him to different parishes and dioceses.

"This is a priest who molested many African-American boys and girls under the cover of his collar," Anderson said. "But it's the diocese that ultimately bears responsibility for allowing it to happen for so long."

Tom Mullen, president of Catholic Charities, declined to address the lawsuit but said Romansky did a wonderful job at St. Augustine, had no contact with children and was much beloved by the senior citizens there.

Harrison said he blames the abuse for causing his manic-depression, breaking up his marriage, and leaving him mentally disabled and unable to work as a cement mason.

Alex Collins, 45, who attended school at St. Thomas Aquinas, 9101 Superior Ave., said he regrets encouraging friends to join the youth group Romansky supervised.

"We were just poor kids looking for attention," Collins said. "Our parents trusted him."

Romansky was newly ordained when he arrived at St. Thomas in 1975. Collins and Harrison said Romansky endeared himself to them with gifts, trips to movies and amusement parks, and summer jobs. He also gave them cigarettes and beer, they said.

None of Romansky's accusers told their parents or church authorities of the abuses, but somebody did: Two of Romansky's fellow priests reported him to diocesan officials, they said in recent interviews with The Plain Dealer.

But rather than punish Romansky, the church hierarchy assigned him to new parishes: St. Catherine's on East 93rd Street in 1980, St. Francis on Superior Avenue in 1981 and Holy Family on East 131st Street in 1983.

In 1986, two mothers and their teenage sons sued Romansky for sexually abusing the boys and two of their friends at Holy Family. They accused him of plying them with pizza and money in exchange for sex. Romansky pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sex crimes, and the diocese paid settlements to both boys.

Bishop Anthony Pilla sent Romansky to Biloxi, Miss., in 1989, but the bishop there sent him back three years later after learning about his past.

Also yesterday, three men joined a suit accusing the Rev. Martin Van Trieste of molesting members of a touring singing group the Lorain priest formed and shepherded in the 1960s and '70s.

They joined two plaintiffs who sued in Lorain County Common Pleas Court in June.


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