Diocese Facing 2 More Lawsuits
One Priest Accused of Molestation Was at Becahi in the Late 1970s
By Kathleen Parrish
Morning Call [Allentown PA]
May 12, 2004
Two more lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Diocese of Allentown were filed Tuesday, too late for inclusion in today's Lehigh County Court hearing to consider the church's request to dismiss six other cases involving similar claims.
The new suits involve additional claims of molestation against the Rev. Gabriel Patil, a member of the Barnabite religious order, who is now pastor at St. James Church in Ontario, Canada, and the Rev. Richard Guiliani, who was principal of Cardinal Brennan High School in Schuylkill County when the alleged abuse occurred in 1976.
Today's hearing, to decide whether the six sexual abuse cases against the Diocese of Allentown, Bishop Edward P. Cullen and retired Bishop Thomas J. Welsh can go forward, is being held before a panel of judges instead of just one.
Such a hearing is unusual, but in this case it's practical. Although the cases were filed separately and assigned to different Lehigh judges, the issue of whether the statute of limitations has expired is the same in each.
In its petition for dismissal, the diocese is arguing the two-year deadline to file a civil case seeking money for alleged injuries has elapsed, considering the alleged abuses took place between 1965 and 1982.
The diocese is also asking Schuylkill County Court to dismiss two cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests on similar grounds, but a hearing date hasn't been set.
In one of the lawsuits filed in Schuylkill County, Pottsville businessman Scott Greis alleges he was molested between 1978 and 1980 by Monsignor William E. Jones, then pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church, Minersville.
On Monday, Jones died in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township. He was 70.
Attorney Jay Abramowitch of Wyomissing, near Reading, who along with Richard Serbin of Altoona is representing all of the alleged victims, said Jones' death won't affect the case because the diocese is the defendant.
It's a legal tactic being employed in Abramowitch and Serbin's suits across the state. By targeting dioceses for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse, the attorneys argue the statute of limitations didn't begin until the alleged victims learned the churches knew about the abuses and hadn't stopped them.
The clock on the two-year deadline starts ticking at different times for different people, Abramowitch said.
"When people find out that they weren't the only ones abused, that's when all this new injury started and the anger comes to the surface," he said.
The argument seems to have held legal water in Blair County, where a judge recently ruled that nine lawsuits filed against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and not the individual priests can proceed.
Also on Tuesday, Abramowitch and Serbin filed lawsuits on behalf of six people alleging sexual abuse by four priests and a nun against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.
Serbin said it was coincidental that the two new lawsuits against the Allentown Diocese were filed one day before the dismissal hearing.
"We filed them today because we had the affidavits," he said Tuesday. "It's a long process. We are continually meeting with victims of childhood clergy abuse. Once they contact us, it's not an overnight process."
In one of the two suits filed Tuesday in Lehigh County, Janet Wychulis, 40, of Schuylkill County claims she was sexually abused by Guiliani in December 1976 when she was a student at Cardinal Brennan High.
According to the complaint, Wychulis, who was 16 at the time, said she was doing her homework in the school gymnasium when Guiliani asked her to accompany him to the store to buy Christmas gifts for his nieces and nephews. On the ride home, Guiliani asked her to retrieve something from the back of the car. As she was bending over the seat, he reached beneath her skirt and fondled her, the suit says.
In an earlier suit filed against Guiliani in Lehigh County, Patricia Beaumont, 46, of Lancaster County charged Guiliani molested her while she was a student and he a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Bethlehem Township.
The sexual abuse began in 1971 and culminated four years later when Guiliani visited her at college and proposed sexual intercourse and marriage, according to the suit.
The other new Lehigh County suit names Patil. It involves an unidentified accuser who said he was 9 in 1978 when Patil began molesting him, and the abuse continued for two years. The allegations mirror those made in a previous Lehigh suit filed by two unidentified men who say they were 6 and 7 when Patil began molesting them.
Patil, who was serving at Bethlehem Catholic High School at the time, would invite the boys to his home "under the guise of playing hide-and-seek," and then molest them, the suits say.
In response to the new suits, the Allentown Diocese issued a written statement saying the most recent allegation is 20 years old. Furthermore, investigations conducted two years ago by district attorneys from the five counties in the diocese concluded that at no time did the diocese discourage victims from contacting police, intimidate them or violate a law.
The diocese's intent to defend itself in court shouldn't detract from its commitment to "prevent the abuse of children and youth and to respond quickly to meet the pastoral needs of those who have been abused in the past," the statement said.
That can't be accomplished if the truth isn't disclosed, officials of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests wrote in a letter Monday to Cullen.
SNAP National Director David Clohessy and David Cerulli, director of the New York City SNAP chapter, who said he was abused as an altar boy in Allentown, appealed to Cullen to allow the sexual abuse suits to proceed.
"We strongly urge you not to use any conceivable legal maneuver to avoid consequences for abuse by priests in the Allentown Diocese and the subsequent cover-up of these crimes," the men wrote. "Help victims heal and promote the protection of children by insuring that all the facts of this terrible tragedy are known and those responsible held accountable."
Besides Schuylkill and Lehigh, the diocese covers Berks, Northampton and Carbon counties.
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