Lawsuit Names Dead Priest

By David Hunt
Tribune-Review [Greensburg PA]
August 17, 2005

A priest who died more than a decade ago is at the center of another lawsuit facing the Diocese of Greensburg.

Altoona lawyer Richard M. Serbin filed the 33-page civil action in Westmoreland County court on behalf of an unidentified man referred to as John Doe. A signed affidavit filed with the paperwork indicates the man wants to keep his identity from the public record. Named as defendants in the suit are the diocese and retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco.

According to the suit, Doe was a parishioner of St. Stanislaus Church in Calumet when he was sexually abused by the Rev. Francis Lesniak. Doe was between 12 and 13 years old at the time of the alleged abuse and is now 52. Lesniak died in 1991.

In the mid-1960s, the suit states, Doe was invited to stay overnight at the rectory when Lesniak was transferred from St. Stanislaus to St. Anne Church in Rostraver Township. The court document says Doe woke up while Lesniak fondled him. The priest allegedly then forced the boy to fondle him in return, according to the lawsuit.

Serbin was out of the office Tuesday and unavailable for comment. The suit alleges the diocese knew such abuses were happening and had a responsibility to do something. Bosco, who was bishop from 1987 until last year, was the successor to the late Bishop William G. Connare, who was in charge of the diocese at the time of the allegations.

This is not the first time Serbin has filed a suit against the diocese because of alleged abuse by Lesniak. Earlier this year, Serbin sued on behalf of Terrance J. Zawacki, a parishioner of Transfiguration Church in Mt. Pleasant, where Lesniak was filling in more than 40 years ago.

In another case filed in June, Serbin sued the diocese on behalf of Brian G. Guarino, 41, who claims he was sexually abused at age 10 by the Rev. Roger J. Trott. Guarino, of Laurel, Md., is now 41. He served as an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg from 1973-76.

Jerry Zufelt, diocese spokesman, acknowledged the latest suit, filed Friday, and said it has been turned over to Pittsburgh attorney Carl Eck.

"We will cooperate with the civil authorities in this case and others that come before the court," Zufelt said. "We have a policy of openness and transparency."

Damages beyond the jurisdictional limit of $30,000 are being sought and a jury trial is being demanded in the latest suit.