Archabbey Settles Priest Abuse Allegations

By Matthew Junker
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review [Pennsylvania]
May 11, 2005

Attorneys for a State College man and St. Vincent Archabbey have reached a settlement that ends one family's public dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over decades-old allegations of abuse.

John Morrison filed suit in February 2004 against the archabbey, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, former Bishop James Hogan, and the head of St. Vincent Archabbey, Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki. The suit sought an unspecified amount in excess of $30,000 for alleged sexual molestation by the Rev. Alvin T. Downey, a monk of St. Vincent and a psychiatric nurse.

Downey was appointed in 1980 to serve as pastor of Morrison's home church, St. John the Evangelist, in Bellefonte, by the archabbey and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese to substitute for a vacationing priest.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but were not sealed. Morrison's attorney, Helen R. Kotler, of Pittsburgh, said Morrison declined to disclose the terms.

"These are very emotional and stressful cases for the plaintiffs. They bring back memories of things they'd rather not revisit," Kotler said.

"We're happy the matter has been amicably resolved," said Eric Anderson, attorney for the archabbey and diocese, who is also of Pittsburgh.

According to the suit, Downey plied the boy with drugs and alcohol and repeatedly performed oral sex. The lawsuit alleged that Downey also promised to introduce Morrison to then-Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Morrison claimed he was molested at St. Vincent by Downey and two other priests, according to the lawsuit.

Kotler also represents Morrison's mother, Mary Bonson, of Port Matilda, Centre County, who sued in 2003 over the same abuse allegations. That case was settled under undisclosed terms earlier this year.

In that case, Bonson said she first learned about the abuse in 2002 when she asked Morrison about allegations of sexual abuse by another priest in the family's home parish. Her son had served as an altar boy there in the early 1980s when he was 17 years old.

Two lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Greensburg over decades-old abuse allegations remain active.

Terrance J. Zawacki, 53, and Thomas J. Shirley, 41, through separate lawsuits, made allegations earlier this year that the Rev. Francis M. Lesniak abused them in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lesniak died on Feb. 28, 1991, after serving as a priest from 1943 into the 1980s.

Anderson has said he intends to ask that the active suits be thrown out based on an appeals court opinion that dismissed several Philadelphia lawsuits over alleged sexual abuse by priests.

Three Superior Court judges, in tossing out 18 cases against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in March, said that under Pennsylvania law, claims for intentional conduct, negligence and conduct based in fraud are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

Previously, courts had allowed the lawsuits to go forward on the theory that the church had concealed the priests' misdeeds. The decision has been appealed.

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 in Pennsylvania have been accused of abuse.