Diocese of Allentown, Deceased Priest Named in Sex Abuse Lawsuit

May 13, 2009

A Millersville, Pa., woman is holding a news conference this afternoon to announce a sex abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Allentown and a deceased priest.

Sharon Tell alleges the Rev. James J. McHale molested her from 1964 to 1984, starting when she was 12, according to a news release. She claims the crimes mainly took place in Bethlehem, where her family lived and belonged to Notre Dame parish.

But she alleges the abuse continued after her family moved to Smyrna, Del., in 1966. McHale often visited and took her on trips to at least six states and Rome, the release says. It does not specify when McHale died.

The news conference is scheduled for 2 o'clock this afternoon outside the Diocese of Allentown headquarters at 4029 W. Tilghman St., Allentown.

"Prior to and throughout his tenure, the Diocese (knew) that McHale was sexually molesting young children (yet) they continued to allow him to serve as a priest," the suit says.

It also claims McHale "used his participating in Diocesan activities as a means to ingratiate himself with Tell's family," and become "a trusted counselor, spiritual advisor, mentor and friend to every member of the family."

Tell alleges in the suit that McHale paid special attention to her, "pretending to provide guidance and support regarding the various aspects of struggles of childhood and adolescent life."

She claims he isolated her and wielded such power that she could not ward off his advances even after she was an adult.

Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr had not heard of the lawsuit before today and declined comment until he could learn more about the allegations.

The lawsuit is being filed in New Castle Superior Court in Delaware. It seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial. Delaware has a civil window, which will soon close.

Tell is represented by attorneys Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., and Tom Conaty of Wilmington, Del. Her attorneys, family and members of the support group SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) also will attend the news conference.


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