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  More Mud on the Church
Cover-Up Alleged for Priest Tied to Sex, Booze, Death

By Jim Smith
Philadelphia Daily News
September 23, 2003

Booze, pornography and religious instruction - all allegedly supplied by a priest with a hidden past - flowed freely on the night of the tragic death earlier this year of University of Pittsburgh football player Billy Gaines, attorneys for his estate claim.

The lawyers last week sued the priest, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Diocese of Pittsburgh for more than $75 million in federal court in Philadelphia.

The lawsuit alleges that high-church officials knew of and covered up the fact that the Rev. Henry R. Krawczyk had given alcohol to minors in the 1980s and may have been involved in sexual abuses of minors at the time.

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, was bishop of Pittsburgh when the alleged cover-up began in 1986, but he was not named as a defendant or even mentioned in the lawsuit.

A spokesman for the cardinal, who came to Philadelphia in early 1988 and who now is about to retire, had no immediate comment.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say the priests were "praying for Billy Gaines, his family and friends."

The Bishops Conference also had no immediate comment, but a spokesman, Bill Ryan, noted that although the bishops set church policy in the United States, they have no authority to enforce such policies.

"The Bishops Conference does not have authority over . . . assigning priests. Each diocese is autonomous," Ryan said.

Gaines, 19, of Ijamsville, Md., died June 18, less than a day after falling through a ceiling while intoxicated, plunging about 25 feet onto a wooden pew inside St. Anne's Catholic Church, in Homestead, near Pittsburgh.

The priest has been charged criminally with involuntary manslaughter and awaits trial.

The lawsuit, filed by Gaines' parents, Kimberly and William S. Gaines, claims the priest had invited six football players to a "cookout" at St. Anne's.

At the cookout, the suit claims, the priest served them alcoholic beverages for several hours, let them watch "pornography" on the Playboy Channel of his television, and challenged at least one underage football player "to a drinking competition."

The suit claims the priest was drinking "mixed drinks and shots."

The suit notes that Gaines consumed "between six and nine drinks" and had a blood-alcohol content of .166 percent, "well above Pennsylvania's legal intoxication limit of .10 percent."

The suit alleges the defendants covered up the priest's prior wrongdoing involving alcohol and suspected sexual abuses beginning in 1986, until Gaines' tragic death.

The defendants "intentionally concealed the fact that Krawczyk had been accused and suspected of engaging in a pattern of illegal and inappropriate conduct against minors," the suit asserts.

They also concealed that Krawczyk "had acknowledged at least one such crime of furnishing alcohol to minors, and had also been accused of sexually inappropriate conduct toward minors," the suit states.

According to the suit, the priest was accused "on at least one occasion" in the 1980s of furnishing alcohol "and illegal controlled substances" to minors and of making a sexual advance on a minor boy.

The suit states that the priest "acknowledged furnishing alcohol to a minor on at least one occasion, and was reprimanded by the" Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The suit states the priest was sent "for psychological evaluation and counseling" but allowed to return to the parish, sparking a complaint by the family of one of the accusers to the diocese "that they feared" the priest "might repeat his behavior."

The suit says that Bishop Donald Wuerl approved or directed the priest's transfer to another parish in June 1988. This was several months after Wuerl succeeded Bevilacqua as bishop of Pittsburgh.

In 1992, the priest was promoted to pastor of St. Maximilan Kolbe parish in Homestead, and later that year he was "accused once again of illegally furnishing alcohol to minors," the suit contends.

The diocese again "reprimanded" the priest but allowed him to remain as pastor and "concealed" his wrongdoing, the suit alleges.

The suit alleges that the priest began supplying alcohol to Gaines in spring 2002 and that the priest drove Gaines home at least once "under the influence of alcohol." That summer, Gaines worked for the priest, doing landscaping at St. Anne's, where the priest also served.

This past May, the apartment used by Gaines and several teammates was damaged by fire, and Gaines and another teammate, David Abdul, accepted the priest's invitation to live in a convent on the grounds of St. Anne's, and paid $50 a month rent. Employees of the diocese knew of this arrangement, the suit notes.

Between May 26, and June 16, the priest allegedly served alcohol to his two convent boarders "on multiple occasions," the suit states. One time, Gaines "had complained to friends that he felt" the priest "pressured him to drink together and that Gaines felt compelled to do so because" the priest "was providing him with a place to live and Gaines did not want to show disrespect for" the priest.

The priest allegedly showed Gaines and Abdul how to climb out a window onto the rectory roof on June 16, when both players were drunk, after giving them about 10 mixed drinks apiece and showing them a videotape, "part of which contained pornographic material," the suit says.

The priest hosted the cookout the next night, attended by Gaines, Abdul and four other players, all under the age of 21.

Early the next morning, after several hours drinking with the priest, Gaines, Abdul and a third player "used the church microphone in a manner that revealed their obvious intoxication" but the priest did nothing to stop them. The three players then walked up two flights of stairs, climbed out the window, and got on the rectory roof. A fourth player declined to go with them.

The priest was near the church altar when the three players re-entered through the window.

Then Gaines climbed up a short ladder to an attic.

When he turned to come down, he fell through the ceiling of the church sanctuary, and onto a pew about 25 feet below.

The suit alleges "the Catholic Church in the United States has for decades engaged in a systematic conspiracy to conceal instances of improper and illegal conduct by its clergy against minors from the general public and from the proper authorities."

This alleged conspiracy "to conceal" allegations against Father Krawczyk "was a direct and proximate cause of Billy Gaines' death," the suit charges.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O'Neill.

The parents' lead lawyer, Stephen H. Sherman, of the firm of Patton Boggs LLP, in Washington, D.C., yesterday declined to say why the case had been filed in Philadelphia and said he could not answer a reporter's questions about the case at this time. *

Contact: smithjm@phillynews.com

 
 

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