Judge Upholds Suit against Diocese

By Jan Ackerman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 4, 2004

A judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh of conspiring to protect priests against allegations of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago.

Yesterday, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. ruled that a jury would have to decide whether a plaintiff who is suing the diocese can argue that his case should be treated as an exception under the statute of limitations.

He made that ruling after looking at one case involving the former Rev. John Wellinger, who is accused of molesting 11-year-old Chris Matthews in 1989. The Matthews case was used as a test case on which Wettick was asked to rule on how the statute of limitations would affect complaints filed this year against the diocese.

Attorney Alan H. Perer, who with Richard M. Serbin represents 25 plaintiffs, called Wettick's decision a "major victory" for his side. Perer said they now plan to begin the discovery process for 29 complaints they have filed against the diocese this year involving allegations of molestation against 14 priests and former priests.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesman, said the decision now forces the plaintiffs and their lawyers to deal with actual facts through the legal discovery process, "rather than simply generating media spin and a public relations campaign."

"It may never go to the jury because they have to prove what they have alleged," Lengwin said.

"We believe that once our information is brought before the court, the suits will be shown to be baseless."

The accusations are long past the statute of limitations. They accuse the diocese of conspiring to cover up abuse of minors.


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