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  Ex-Bellefonte Priest Named in Abuse Lawsuit

By Mike Joseph
Centre Daily Times (State College, PA)
May 21, 2003

A Centre County woman has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, claiming her son was sexually abused more than 20 years ago by a priest at St. John's Catholic Church in Bellefonte.

The complaint names Father Alvin T. Downey, a priest at St. John's in 1980-81, as a defendant along with diocese Bishop Joseph V. Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan.

The complaint also names as defendants the Benedictine Society of Westmoreland County in Latrobe and two other priests, Father Athanasius Cherry and Father Andrew Campbell.

The mother says in the complaint that Downey, Cherry and Campbell plied her then-teenage son with drugs and alcohol when he stayed at the Latrobe monastery, which is also known as St. Vincent Archabbey, in 1981.

The complaint was filed Monday in Westmoreland County Court. The son has not filed a complaint but is considering one, the woman's attorney said. The complaint identifies the woman who filed the complaint, but the Centre Daily Times is withholding the identification.

The woman's son came to know Downey in 1980 when Downey was assigned to fill in for vacationing priests at St. John's when her son was a 16-year-old altar boy at the church, according to the complaint.

Downey gave the boy marijuana and alcohol and then fondled him and performed sex acts on him, the complaint alleges.

The abuse continued until 1981 when the boy stayed at the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, invited there under the guise of meeting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, according to the complaint.

The teen was sexually abused by Downey, Campbell and Cherry, the complaint states.

The complaint is at least the seventh filed this year against the diocese, Adamec and Hogan. Together, the complaints represent the first such actions faced by the diocese since a 1987 case against a now-defrocked priest that resulted in a $1.2 million award.

Kim Metzgar, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent, declined to comment Tuesday, saying neither she nor archabbey officials had seen the lawsuit. Metzgar also said the priests, who are still active, would not comment.

Downey could not be reached for comment.

Mary Parks, a diocese spokeswoman, also declined comment, saying the diocese had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The most recent complaint adopts a strategy similar to others against the diocese, claiming church officials knew about abuse allegations against priests but did too little to prevent future abuse.

The diocese and archabbey "prevented parents, such as the plaintiff, from questioning and learning of the abuse to prevent further harm to her minor son or take action for the harm done," the complaint states.

In the complaint, the mother claims that her health has declined and she is in counseling and that her son has since been hospitalized.

The mother's attorney, Helen Kotler, said the son, now in his 30s, is debating whether he will file a complaint.

According to the complaint, the woman learned of her son's alleged abuse last year after questioning him when allegations surfaced against another local priest. Contact: mjoseph@centredaily.com

 
 

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