Appeals Court Ruling May Affect Local Case Alleging Clergy Sex Abuse

By Craig Smith
Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
March 16, 2005

An attorney representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg in a clergy sexual abuse case said he'll ask a judge to dismiss the lawsuit in light of a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision.

Attorney Eric Anderson, representing the diocese, said he'll file a motion to dismiss the case, which was brought against the diocese by Terrance J. Zawacki, based on the ruling by three Superior Court judges.

"It's a sweeping decision that will have significant impact," he said.

Zawacki, 53, alleges that he was abused about 43 years ago by a priest who died in 1991. The case is pending before Westmoreland County Judge Daniel Ackerman.

The appeals court judges, in tossing out 18 cases against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday, said that under Pennsylvania law, claims for intentional conduct, negligence and conduct based in fraud are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

That ruling, attorneys said, becomes the law of the land, pending an appeal.

Zawacki said in a complaint filed by Altoona attorney Richard Serbin that he believes he was about 11 years old when the Rev. Francis M. Lesniak took him ice skating, then invited him to stay overnight at a church rectory.

Zawacki was a parishioner at Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church in Mt. Pleasant, where Lesniak was filling in. Lesniak allegedly took Zawacki to another rectory where the alleged abuse occurred.

Zawacki is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in excess of $30,000, plus punitive damages because the diocese knew or should have known that its priests were molesting children and concealed it. Both the Diocese of Greensburg and retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco were named as defendants.

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the court's decision "flies in the face of a long-standing national trend making it less difficult -- not more difficult -- for victims to have their day in court."

"We certainly hope that these brave men and women will keep pushing for justice and a hearing in court ... which is all these suffering victims are seeking," he said.

Serbin could not be reached for comment. In addition to the Zawacki case, he has informed the diocese that he may sue on behalf of two other clients.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and its insurance carriers paid more than $352,000 for counseling and settlements related to 11 substantiated sexual abuse allegations since 1951, according to figures released as part of a national study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


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