Diocese Faces Another Abuse Suit

By Matthew Junker and Craig Smith
Tribune-Review [Greensburg PA]
March 8, 2005

A Greensburg man filed suit against the Diocese of Greensburg over allegations that he was abused approximately 43 years ago, at the hands of a priest who has been dead since 1991.

Terrance J. Zawacki, 53, said in a filing made last week that he believes he was approximately 11 years of age when the Rev. Francis M. Lesniak took him ice skating, then invited him to stay overnight at a church rectory.

Zawacki's attorney is well known in the state for representing alleged victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. Lawyer Richard Serbin, of Altoona, represents Zawacki, one of more than 100 plaintiffs he's represented in this type of case. Last year, he settled 21 cases for $3.71 million against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

According to Serbin, Zawacki was a parishioner at Transfiguration Church in Mt. Pleasant, where Lesniak was filling in. Serbin said Lesniak took his client to another rectory, unknown to him.

"Father Lesniak offered to have my client stay over after taking him ice skating. That's when the abuse occurred," he said.

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 their priests were molesting children, and concealed it. Both the Diocese of Greensburg and retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco were named as defendants.

The suit claims that Zawacki's single episode of alleged abuse has led to mental anguish and necessitates continued counseling.

Diocese spokeswoman Angela Burrows issued a statement in response to the filing of the complaint.

"The diocese has enlisted the help of legal counsel and will defend itself as the process unfolds," she said.

The executive director of a 5,000-member group of people abused by priests said Zawacki's 43-year wait to seek redress isn't unusual.

"Usually, it takes decades to realize that we were hurt, then evaluate the options. For many victims, it takes a long time for them to realize that they were hurt at all. It's usually after a string of failures in their personal life that they get some counseling and realize it," said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

Survivors First, a Boston-based group of survivors of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of priests, maintains a listing of priests accused of abuse nationwide. According to the group, more than 80 priests have been accused of abuse in Pennsylvania.

Lesniak died on Feb. 28, 1991, after serving as a priest from 1943 into the 1980s, all with the Diocese of Greensburg. Bosco was the celebrant at the funeral Mass.

Zawacki is the sister of Kristen Zawacki, St. Vincent College's athletic director, who also serves as head basketball coach for the women's team.


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