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  Diocese Settles Lawsuit by Pitt Player's Parents

By Jason Cato
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
January 11, 2006

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and the former pastor of a Homestead parish have settled a lawsuit with the parents of a University of Pittsburgh football player who died in June 2003 after falling through a church ceiling while partying with the priest and teammates.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but they were to the "satisfaction of all parties," said Read K. McCaffrey, a Washington. D.C.-based defense lawyer.

William "Bill" Samuel Gaines and his wife, Kimberly Ann, parents of former Pitt wide receiver Billy Gaines, had filed a federal lawsuit seeking $75 million from the diocese and the Rev. Henry W. Krawczyk, who hosted an all-night party for their 19-year-old son and other Pitt players at St. Anne Catholic Church, part of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish.

The Gaineses, of Ijamsville, Md., sued the diocese and others for covering up past indiscretions by Krawczyk and for inadequately supervising him despite his history of providing alcohol to minors and accusations that he made sexual advances to a young man.

They also sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, where Krawczyk had been pastor since 1992; St. Anne Church; Our Lady of Joy Parish in Plum, where Krawczyk served in the 1980s; and others accused of taking part in the conspiracy to conceal Krawczyk's past -- including previous drinking parties at the church for Gaines and other Pitt players.

Bill Gaines, the dead player's father, said it has been a tough 2 1/2 years.

"It's been very, very difficult for us as a family," Gaines said. "We're ready to move forward."

"I'm glad to hear the family said that, because this is such a grave personal loss for them," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese.

The settlement will be covered by the diocese's insurance, Lengwin said.

Billy Gaines and four teammates were drinking alcohol on June 17, 2003, at a cookout hosted by Krawczyk. During the party, Gaines and a teammate climbed into a crawl space above the sanctuary. Gaines fell through a suspended ceiling, striking a wooden pew and the concrete floor 25 feet below. He died the next day of head and neck injuries.

Tests showed he was legally drunk.

The suit alleged Krawczyk served drinks at the party, challenged at least one young man to a drinking contest, did nothing as the student athletes got rowdy, watched the Playboy Channel in the rectory and used the church's sound system to sing.

Krawczyk also was accused of knowing that Gaines and the others were trying to crawl to the rectory roof and doing nothing to stop them.

The priest was suspended soon after the incident from his role as pastor and from performing public ministry. Krawczyk was permanently barred from working in the Pittsburgh diocese after he pleaded guilty in February to charges in connection with Gaines death: involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and furnishing alcohol to those under 21.

He was sentenced to seven years' probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

Krawczyk denied allegations in 1986 that he gave marijuana to an 18-year-old man and two friends, and that he made a sexual advance on the teenager. The priest admitted to giving beer to the boys. He denied providing beer to another minor in 1992.

In 1986, Krawczyk was made to undergo counseling. In both cases, he was reprimanded by the diocese.

 
 

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