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  Five Sue Allentown Catholic Diocese

By Christine Schiavo
Philadelphia Inquirer
January 14, 2004

An attorney who has been a crusader for those who say they were abused by priests filed lawsuits this week against the Catholic Diocese of Allentown on behalf of five alleged victims.

Richard M. Serbin, who has 13 cases pending in Blair County against the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, has accused Allentown Bishop Edward P. Cullen and his predecessor, Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, of fraud, claiming that the bishops knowingly promoted, transferred or retired abusive priests.

No priests were listed as defendants in the four lawsuits that were filed in Lehigh County and the one filed in Schuylkill County, because in all five cases the statute of limitations for raising abuse allegations had expired.

"The cover-up has been going on for decades," Serbin said at a news conference yesterday that included co-counsel David Abramowitch, four of the plaintiffs, and two representatives from Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national support group for victims of clergy abuse.

The Allentown diocese, which includes about 270,000 Catholics, denied the allegations in a news release, saying that district attorneys in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill Counties reviewed the files of all five priests and found no wrongdoing on the part of the church.

"The diocesan policy of reporting all allegations of abuse to law enforcement has been strictly observed," the statement read.

Three women and two men filed the lawsuits, one as a John Doe. None of the five priests are currently active, according to the diocese.

Msgr. William E. Jones was removed in 2002. Scott Greis, 39, of Schuylkill County, said Jones abused him when he played basketball at the parish gym.

Msgr. Dennis Rigney, accused of fondling a 9-year-old parishioner, and the Rev. Francis Fromholzer, accused of molesting one of his high school students, retired in 2002. The Rev. Richard Giuliani, who allegedly abused Patricia Beaumont at Notre Dame High School from 1971 to 1975, left the priesthood 27 years ago, according to Matt Kerr, spokesman for the Allentown diocese.

The priest Doe accuses, the Rev. Michael Lawrence, served at least two other parishes and taught at Notre Dame High School after Doe's father reported the abuse to Welsh in 1982.

The victims said they were looking for an apology and an acknowledgment of their abuse from the church.

"The physical abuse is one thing. What it does [to you] spiritually is another," said Juliann Bortz, who said Fromholzer molested her when she was in ninth grade in the 1960s. "That's what I needed - spiritual help. I never got it."

Serbin would not discuss when the diocese became aware of the allegations. He could not say how many of the priests remained active after the allegations had surfaced.

Cullen, who served as Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's vicar of administration in the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1994 to 1998, has ousted at least seven Allentown diocese priests accused of abuse since 2000. In Philadelphia, Bevilacqua said before his retirement last year that credible allegations had been made against 35 priests in the last 50 years. The archdiocese removed four priests last year.

 
 

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