Priest Who Served in Valley Sued over Alleged Sex Abuse

By Precious Petty
The Express-Times [Pennsylvania]
September 30, 2004

A clergyman who once served at an Easton-area church has been accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Allentown Diocese.

In the Berks County lawsuit, Diana L. Vojtasek of Blandon, Pa., alleges the Rev. James Gaffney molested her while she was a student at Reading Central Catholic High School, where he served as vice principal and disciplinarian. Vojtasek, now 30, claims the abuse began in 1990 when she was 16 and continued for two years.

Gaffney was transferred to St. Jane Frances de Chantal, then in Wilson Borough, soon after diocese officials learned of the alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit. He continued to initiate sexual contact between himself and Vojtasek while there until he was reassigned again in 1995, the suit says.

After leaving St. Jane Frances de Chantal, which has since moved to Palmer Township, Gaffney served as the assistant pastor at two Schuylkill County churches, diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said. He is currently on leave and has not been in active ministry since 2002, Kerr said.

This is the first time Gaffney has been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the diocese. So far, 13 such suits have been filed in Lehigh, Berks and Schuylkill counties, all of them on behalf of clients represented by the same Wyomissing, Pa., law firm.

As in the other suits, Bishops Edward P. Cullen and Thomas J. Welsh are listed as defendants. Reading Central Catholic High School is also named in the lawsuit.

"The school had specific notice that this man was a pedophile and allowed him to remain for a long time and allowed his transfer to another parish in (Wilson)," said Jay Abramowitch, an attorney for the firm representing Vojtasek.According to the lawsuit, Gaffney befriended Vojtasek, who was struggling with depression brought on by her parents divorce.

During their meetings in his car and office, Gaffney discussed sexually explicit topics, exposed his genitals and forced Vojtasek to perform sex acts, including intercourse, the lawsuit says.

When the school principal and another priest eventually learned about the abuse, they confronted Vojtasek, the suit says. She acknowledged the abuse happened, but the men did not report anything to police or her parents.

In a prepared statement released Tuesday, the diocese denies that it sought to cover up allegations or prevent alleged victims from reporting incidents to law enforcement authorities.

The release cites a 2002 investigation conducted by district attorneys in five counties covered by the diocese, which cleared the diocese of any criminal wrongdoing.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.