8 File Abuse Suit against Diocese

By David Conti
Tribune-Review [Pittsburgh PA]
September 30, 2004

Seven former altar boys and one woman on Wednesday filed the latest lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, alleging sexual abuse by priests and a cover-up by the diocese.

Twenty-five other people have filed similar lawsuits against the diocese this year. The latest accusers include a Duquesne man who said in papers filed yesterday that he told Bishop Donald Wuerl in 1992 that the Rev. Joseph Karabin had molested him in 1978, a charge the diocese denied.

"There is something wrong with a system that would allow priests to prey on victims like this," said Alan H. Perer, one of the attorneys representing the 33 men and women to sue the diocese this year.

Diocese spokesman the Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin quickly dismissed the validity of yesterday's lawsuits, saying in a written statement that the complaints are "nothing more than another step in a publicity campaign by these attorneys to gain notoriety for litigation regarding a conspiracy that never existed."

The eight plaintiffs identified six former priests as their abusers. Three of those priests had not been named in previous court filings: They are: Richard Ginder, George J. Parme and Robert Castelucci.

The three remaining priests had been named in other lawsuits this year: Karabin, formerly of St. Albert the Great Church in Baldwin Borough, who withdrew from the ministry in 2002; Lawrence O'Connell, who died in 1986 after serving at St. Gabriel Church of the Sorrowful Virgin in Whitehall; and Charles J. Chatt, who withdrew from the ministry last year after spending 11 years on sick leave.

All 33 lawsuits, which include the eight new ones, do not seek damages from the alleged abusers because the time to file such complaints has expired. Instead, they ask the court to hold church leaders -- Wuerl and his predecessor, Anthony Bevilacqua, now retired from being archbishop of Philadelphia -- responsible for allowing the alleged assaults occur.

An Allegheny County judge ruled in August that the 25 cases filed as of that time can move on to trials. However, those cases and the new complaints are caught in a judicial logjam because an appeals court has been asked to rule on a similar case from Philadelphia, Perer said.

"It may take another six months until we can proceed," he said. "These people have already suffered a long time."

Ralph A. Oliverio, 40, of Duquesne, said in court papers filed yesterday that Karabin fondled him and forced him to engage in oral sex in 1977 at Holy Name Church in Duquesne, when Karabin assisted the regular priest there. A 35-year-old Pittsburgh man, whose name was not listed in yesterday's lawsuits, also said Karabin fondled him when he was 13 following altar boy training sessions at St. Albert the Great Church.

Oliverio, who could not be reached for comment, reported the abuse to Wuerl in 1992, the lawsuit said. Lengwin said church records show Wuerl never met with Oliverio.

Karabin underwent church counseling from 1978 to 1986 for what Lengwin called "serious questions about his sexual orientation and abuse of alcohol." He was then named the chaplain at UPMC Braddock hospital until he left in 2002, Lengwin said.

Kenneth G. Vitartas, 40, of Seattle, said in a lawsuit filed yesterday that the Rev. Richard Ginder abused him, gave him beer and money, showed him pornography and took him to New York City during a three-year relationship that started when the boy was 15.

Ginder went on sick leave in 1970 and then died in a 1994 car wreck, Lengwin said.

The remaining five plaintiffs were not identified in yesterday's complaints.


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