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  New Suits Allege Clergy Abuses
Priests and Ex-Nun of Philadelphia Archdiocese Molested Boys, Legal Actions Say

By Pervaiz Shallwani
Morning Call [Allentown, PA]
March 25, 2004

John McNeila was about to hang his coat when he saw his teacher, a former nun, kissing a fellow sixth-grader behind a coat rack in 1976, he claims.

The lay teacher, Eileen Rhoads of Drexel Hill, Delaware County, told McNeila, a recent transfer to Holy Cross Elementary School in Springfield, Delaware County, to keep what he saw to himself, and soon added McNeila to her group of sexual prey, he says.

For the rest of the school year, McNeila says, Rhoads molested him and classmate Christopher Nolan, reading them sexual stories from Playboy magazines, kissing them in her apartment and forcing them to perform sex acts on her while they sat under her desk during class.

Rhoads' alleged sexual abuse of McNeila and Nolan was detailed in two of six new lawsuits filed Wednesday by two attorneys against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The suits are recent additions to a statewide drive by Jay Abramowitch of Wyomissing, Berks County, and Richard Serbin of Altoona to uncover sexual abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses. They have filed nine suits against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, eight against the Diocese of Allentown and dozens more against other dioceses in the state.

The new suits allege Rhoads and four priests in New Hope, Levittown, Norristown and Philadelphia parishes molested children between 10 and 14 years old.

They claim the archdiocese and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who retired last year as archbishop of Philadelphia, knowingly protected and reassigned sexually abusive employees to posts where they continued to have access to children.

As was the case with the four suits filed against the Allentown Diocese on March 5, Abramowitch said the new suits were filed to discredit a survey compiled by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. They seek more than $50,000 in damages each.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shows 4 percent, or about 4,400 priests and deacons nationwide -- including 44 in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and 27 in the Diocese of Allentown -- were accused of sexually abusing children between 1950 and 2002.

"Although [the Archdiocese of Philadelphia] admits pedophilia for a number of priests, the number of priests we think are pedophiles in the diocese is a lot more than are mentioned," Abramowitch said. "The truth will come out later because the church is not acknowledging the full details of what they know."

In a release sent out Wednesday afternoon, the archdiocese said it has not had a chance to review the lawsuits.

"The archdiocese would like all the Catholic faithful to know that it takes seriously and investigates thoroughly any allegation of abuse," the diocese said.

One of the suits involves the Rev. John P. Schmeer, currently a pastor at St. Martin of Tours parish in New Hope. Schmeer was cleared of sexual abuse allegations in November.

Allegations against Schmeer were reported to the Philadelphia Archdiocese in March 2002. The diocese said the allegations were forwarded to the Archdiocesan Review Board for investigation. The board conducted its own inquiry, using private investigators and former FBI agents, the diocese said.

"Father Schmeer denied the allegations and fully cooperated during the investigation," the diocese said in the release.

In November, the board concluded that the allegations against Schmeer were "not credible," the release said.

The suit says Schmeer and the Rev. Ernest A. Durante, who left the priesthood in 1986, molested a 14-year-old Drexel Hill boy identified only by his initials.

Schmeer and Durante took the novice swimmer to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Montgomery County, and told him to swim naked in the deep end of the seminary pool, the suit says.

Threatening to abandon him if he resisted, Durante performed sex acts on the 14-year-old while holding him above water, the suit says.

Another priest named in the suits, Francis X. Trauger, is on the John Jay list, Abramowitch said. Trauger, formerly at St. Titus parish in Norristown, was removed from his duties in 2003 after allegations of abuse were deemed credible, the diocese said.

Trauger is accused of molesting an 11-year-old, also identified in the suit by his initials, 22 years ago. Trauger took the boy to the Poconos to ski and look at a house he wanted to buy, and repeatedly performed sex acts on him, the suit says.

"He was too afraid to move or call out," Abramowitch said.

Also named in the 15-count suits is the Rev. Joseph Gausch, who left the priesthood in 1992 and died in 1999. In a suit filed in January, Gausch was accused of molesting a 14-year-old boy.

Rhoads, the former nun living in Drexel Hill, was charged in February with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy more than 33 years ago in Virginia Beach, Va., where she was a nun. She was indicted by a grand jury on charges of improperly touching the boy between Sept. 1, 1969, and June 30, 1970, The Associated Press reported. Unlike Pennsylvania, Virginia has no statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors.

Rhoads resigned from Holy Cross in 1994, the diocese said.

"What we are saying is there should have been an investigation of why she left her position as a nun in Virginia," Abramowitch said.

"This abuse is so flagrant and so obvious, occurring right in front of the class," he said. "There is no way the diocese could not have known this was going on."

 
 

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