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  Diocese Disputes Claims in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
September 25, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is challenging allegations of sexual solicitation and cover-up in a $75 million lawsuit over the death of 19-year-old Pitt football player Billy Gaines, who fell to his death in a church after consuming alcohol that police say was provided by a Catholic priest.

The diocesan response, which was sent to local priests on Tuesday, does not address claims that the Rev. Henry Krawczyk served alcohol to Gaines and other under-age students.

But the diocese said that Krawczyk had never been accused of making a sexual advance toward a minor, and added that there were no accusations of sexual solicitation or molestation in the Gaines case.

The diocese also maintained that the suit misapplies a 1962 Vatican document in order to argue that the church required a coverup.

"While the Diocese of Pittsburgh continues to state its sadness that a young man died in a tragic accident, the public introduction of a lawsuit based on flawed information requires a public response," the memo said.

In an interview, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, said that "some aspects of the lawsuit" were "absolutely false."

Gaines died June 18, after attending a cookout at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish in Homestead, where police say Krawczyk gave alcohol to college students under the legal drinking age of 21. Gaines, who had a blood alcohol level of 0.166, in excess of the legal limit of 0.10, entered a crawl space above the church ceiling and fell to his death.

Krawczyk, 50, faces criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol to minors. He is on administrative leave from ministry and is banned from offering sacraments in public.

The diocese has previously acknowledged two prior complaints. In 1986, Krawczyk was said to have given alcohol to an 18-year-old college student and to have touched that student's leg. The diocese said that Krawczyk admitted furnishing alcohol, but denied that he had made a sexual advance. Krawczyk was sent for counseling and remained in parish ministry on the recommendation of his therapist, Lengwin said.

The diocese has also said that in 1992 a priest reported that a parishioner had complained that Krawczyk served alcohol to her 16- or 17-year-old son. Krawczyk denied that accusation, Lengwin said.

The federal lawsuit claims that the diocese, the parish and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops should have known that Krawczyk posed a danger.

"[F]rom 1986 through June 2003, Bishop [Donald] Wuerl, the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the USCCB knowingly and intentionally concealed the fact that Krawczyk had admitted to illegally furnishing alcohol to minors and had been accused of illegal sexually inappropriate behavior involving minors," the suit said.

"There was no such coverup," the diocesan memo said. "The only admission of any misconduct at that time was in 1986 and there were no civil or criminal charges ever filed against him."

The memo stresses that there was never an allegation of sexual solicitation involving anyone under 18, the age at which a person is considered an adult in sexual matters.

"While the lawsuit raises the issue of sexual misconduct, no charge has ever been made to diocesan or civil authorities against Father Krawczyk involving sexual misconduct with a minor at any time in his priestly life," the memo said.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the bishops' conference had no role in decisions about Krawczyk's ministry.

The diocesan memo also objected to the lawsuit's citation of Crimen Sollicitationis, a 1962 Vatican document on how the church should respond to priests accused of soliciting sex in the confessional. The diocese claims that the references are based on a "discredited" CBS news report linking that document to the church's response to priests who molest minors.

 
 

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