Four More Accuse Priests of Sex Abuse
Three Clerics Named in Lawsuits against Allentown Diocese.

By Kathleen Parrish
The Morning Call [Allentown PA]
Downloaded March 5, 2004

Saying he wanted to show that the extent of sexual abuse by Catholic priests is far greater than what was reported in a national study, a Berks County attorney on Thursday filed three new lawsuits against the Diocese of Allentown on behalf of four people.

The suits - two of which were filed in Lehigh County and one in Schuylkill County - bring the total number of lawsuits against the diocese alleging sexual abuse by priests to eight. All of the alleged victims are being represented by attorneys Jay Abramowitch of Wyomissing, near Reading, and Richard Serbin of Altoona.

Named in the suits are the Revs. William J. Shields, who died in 2000; Francis J. McNelis, who retired in 2002 and is residing in Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem; and Gabriel Patil, a member of the Barnabite religious order who is now pastor of St. James Church in Ontario, Canada.

The only accuser named is Vincent Catizone Jr. of Girardville, Schuylkill County. One of the accusers in Lehigh County is identified as John Doe II and the other two by their initials.

Each suit consists of 12 counts. The defendants are seeking damages of more than $50,000 for each count.

The complaints detail abuse that allegedly occurred between 1966 and 1980 when the accusers - all boys - were between ages 6 and 13.

"We're filing them in response to the John Jay report," said Abramowitch, referring to a survey compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "There's a great many more coming."

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shows that 4 percent or almost 5,000 priests and deacons nationwide - including 27 in the Allentown Diocese - were accused of sexually abusing children from 1950 to 2002.

Victims' advocates are skeptical of the study because the numbers were provided by the dioceses rather than independent investigators.

Diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr said Shields and McNelis were among the 27 priests who were investigated by the district attorneys of the counties in the diocese - Lehigh, Berks, Carbon, Northampton and Schuylkill - for sexually abusing minors.

"The district attorneys concluded that investigation, and no prosecutable cases in the five counties were found," Kerr said in a prepared statement.

The statute of limitations in all the cases had expired.

"One of the accused diocesan priests is dead," Kerr said. "Under diocesan policy, the other diocesan priest is not in active ministry. The third accused priest is a member of a religious order, the Barnabite Fathers, and is not incardinated as a priest of the Diocese of Allentown." (To be incardinated is to be instituted as the chief priest of a church or place.)

But that doesn't preclude members of the Barnabite Order from saying Mass. The local community was founded in 1971, and its priests have served as weekend assistants in parishes in the Allentown Diocese, as chaplains at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, and as leaders of retreats and spiritual seminars.

Contacted by phone at St. James in Ontario, Patil said he had been notified of the suit but had no comment. Calls to the Barnabite Spiritual Center in Bethlehem Township were not returned.

The suit naming Patil involves two accusers who say they were 6 and 7 in 1978 when he began to molest them and that the abuse continued for two years.

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 suit says.

The suit on behalf of John Doe II says he was an altar boy at St. Ann's Church in Lansford when Shields sexually abused him in 1972 after a church-sponsored game of bingo. According to the suit, the 13-year-old boy and a friend carried the bingo proceeds to Shields at St. Ann's rectory, where the priest invited the boys to stay and eat treats.

Shields later dismissed the other boy and asked John Doe II to remain in the rectory. He directed the teen to the couch in the TV room and began to massage him. Eventually, Shields unbuttoned the boy's pants and fondled him, the suit says.

When the boy left the rectory, Shields told him, "Let this be our little secret," according to the suit.

Catizone, who was 10 in 1966 when McNelis allegedly began to abuse him, was an altar boy and parishioner at St. Joseph's in Girardville.

According to the suit, McNelis performed sex acts on Catizone in his bedroom, his car, the rectory garage and other rooms in the rectory.

The abuse continued for two to three years until Catizone was 13, the suit says.

As with the previous lawsuits, Abramowitch and Serbin are suing the Allentown Diocese; Bishop Thomas Welsh, former head of the diocese; and Bishop Edward Cullen because the two-year statute of limitations against individual priests has expired.

The suits contend the diocese engaged in a systematic coverup to conceal the abuse by transferring troubled priests to other assignments without revealing past allegations.


The Rev. William J. Shields

Ordained: 1958


St. Ambrose in Schuylkill Haven, 1958-60;
St. John the Baptist de La Salle in Shillington, 1960-62;
St. Mary's, Hamburg, February-September 1962;
Annunciation BVM in Shenandoah, 1962-67;
St. Paul's in Allentown, 1967-68;
St. Lawrence in Catasauqua, 1968-69;
St. Ann's in Lansford, 1969-72;
St. Peter's in Reading, 1972-74;
St. Nicholas in Weatherly, 1974-95.

Retired: 1995

Died: 2000

The Rev. Francis J. McNelis

Ordained: 1965


Annunciation BVM in Shenandoah, 1965-66;
St. Joseph's in Girardville, 1966-69;
St. Jerome's in Tamaqua, 1969-70;
St. Theresa's in Hellertown, June-September 1970;
St. John Baptist de La Salle in Shillington, 1970-72;
St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Easton, 1972-74;
St. Ann's in Emmaus, 1974-75;
St. Mary's and St. Boniface in St. Clair, 1975-85;
St. Mary's in Hamburg, 1985-93;
St. Ignatius in Sinking Spring, 1993-2002.

Retired: 2002

The Rev. Gabriel M. Patil

Ordained: 1972

Member of Barnabite Fathers, a religious order named after St. Barnabas. Its clerics are bound by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The local community in Bethlehem was founded in 1971.

In 1990 he was promoted to Provincial Superior of the Barnabite Fathers. He is now pastor of St. James Church in Ontario, Canada.


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