Diocese Accused of Abuse Coverup
Suit Cites 'Repressed' Memories of Victims

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pennsylvania]
January 15, 2004

A lawsuit accuses the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh of a decades-long conspiracy to protect priests who molested minors.

The suit, filed in Common Pleas Court on behalf of four alleged victims, names four former priests: Richard J. Dorsch, John Hoehl and Eric Diskin and the late James Somma.

Three have already been subject to public accusations: Hoehl was sued over allegations the diocese called credible; Somma was unsuccessfully sued, and the diocese called the charges unfounded; and Dorsch went to prison for molesting a boy in 1994.

But this is the first public accusation against Diskin, who had headed the diocesan Worship Office. He was removed from ministry in April 2002 for reasons that were never specified.

The suit is not against the priests, since the statute of limitations — in civil cases, two years after the victim turns 18 — has expired. The attorneys say at least some of the victims had "repressed memories" that returned after national publicity in 2002 about bishops who protected abusers. They argue that the statute of limitations did not start for their clients until March 2002 when they realized that the diocese had conspired against them.

"We are going to show that there was a pattern, a practice of moving these priests around ... so the victims would not know that there was involvement of the diocese until after this started coming out nationally," said Alan Perer, a Pittsburgh attorney.

Diocesan communications director Robert Lockwood said officials would have no comment until they had seen the suit. Bishop Donald Wuerl and his spokesman, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, had left for Rome, where the Pittsburgh Symphony will play for Pope John Paul II.

"The Diocese of Pittsburgh ... is deeply saddened when anyone, especially one as vulnerable as a child, is abused in any way," Lockwood said. "The men identified in this suit are no longer in ministry. ...We have offered assistance and counseling to the victims named in this suit."

Wuerl has a national reputation for having been among the first bishops to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on priests who molest children. He did so in 1988. The suit also includes former Pittsburgh bishops Anthony Bevilacqua and the late Vincent Leonard.

Maria Somma, 38, the late Somma's adopted daughter, said the idea that the diocese had covered up any accusation against her father was ludicrous. She referred to claims by a Philadelphia woman about alleged molestation in the early ' 60s. The highly publicized suit was filed in 1988 when Somma was at Nativity parish in South Park. Stephen L. Visocky III, 28, of Alaska, now says Somma molested him at Nativity between 1987 and 1994.

One reason the 1988 allegation was declared false: The woman claimed to have been a childhood friend of Maria Somma at Purification parish in Ellwood City from 1959 to 1963. Somma didn't adopt Maria until seven years later in Vietnam, she said.

James Somma died in November 2002.

Diskin, the only one not publicly accused until yesterday, resigned from ministry last March 19. Lengwin confirmed that the diocese is still providing Diskin, 55, with housing in a non-parish setting where no minors reside.

Diskin is accused of abusing a teenage boy, starting in 1972, when the victim claims that Diskin was a priest at St. Paul Church in Butler. Diocesan directories show that Diskin did not become a priest until 1975, three years after the abuse is said to have begun.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said victims are often legitimately confused about dates.

Hoehl is being sued by an anonymous plaintiff, who said Hoehl molested him in the mid-' 70s while he was a student at Quigley High School in Baden. Hoehl was headmaster there from 1971 to 1985.

Hoehl was previously sued by Paul J. Dorsch of Harmony, but the suit was dismissed last month because the statute of limitations had expired. Lengwin has acknowledged receiving accusations from several former Quigley students. Lengwin has said that Wuerl banned Hoehl from ministry in 1988 because he considered the accusations credible. He said that Hoehl receives no diocesan support.

Richard Dorsch (no relation to Paul J. Dorsch), then pastor of Risen Lord parish on the North Side, was arrested in 1994 for molesting a 13-year-old boy at North Park. He was banned from ministry, convicted and sentenced to up to 23 months in jail. Lengwin has said that one reason they believed the accusation was credible was that another victim came forward. James Edward Kushon, 33, of Huntington Beach, Calif., a plaintiff in yesterday's suit, said he was that witness.

Kushon said he had reported Dorsch to the diocese before his 1994 arrest. But Lockwood said diocesan records showed that Kushon first contacted them after news stories about Dorsch's arrest.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.