Diocese of Pittsburgh Settles in Priest Sex-abuse Case

By Peter Smith
Morning Call
March 29, 2016

The Diocese of Pittsburgh last year reached a "five-figure" settlement with a man over his claim that he was sexually abused as a youth in the 1980s by a priest whom then-Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua brought into the diocese despite knowing his past sexual predatory behavior and risk of repeating it.

The out-of-court settlement, reached in October, was announced this week by Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who said his client was assaulted by the Rev. John P. Connor, a New Jersey priest who worked in the North Hills section of Pittsburgh in the 1980s.

Allegations of Connor's serial attacks on youths before and after his Pittsburgh tenure were documented in a 2005 grand jury report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where the late Cardinal Bevilacqua later brought Connor.

But this settlement provides the first allegation that Connor also used his time in the Diocese of Pittsburgh to groom and sexually assault at least one youth.

Garabedian said he's releasing news of the settlement, with several others recently struck with the Archdiocese of Boston, to prod Catholic officials into becoming more transparent about priests and others who used their authority in the church to sexually abuse children.

"In so listing the perpetrators, transparency exists, which helps victims/survivors heal and gain a degree of closure," said Garabedian, whose long role of representing clergy-abuse survivors was prominently featured in the recent movie "Spotlight," about the scandal in Boston. "Once again the question remains: Where were the supervisors, and why weren't they protecting children?"

The abuse happened while Connor worked at St. Alphonsus Church in Pine Township, Allegheny County, he said.

The abuse occurred over two years when his client was 12 to 14, according to Garabedian. It happened in Connor's car, in a Pittsburgh movie theater and on a basketball court in Bradford Woods, he said.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese, confirmed the settlement. He said Garabedian's client originally contacted the diocese anonymously in 2008 before the attorney contacted the diocese on his behalf in 2014.

Lengwin said the diocese turned over the information to the district attorney's office but that the case could not be prosecuted under the statute of limitations.

Connor was a priest of the Diocese of Camden, N.J., whom then-Bishop Bevilaqua agreed to bring here in 1985. Connor had been arrested in 1984 for molesting a 14-year-old boy during a beach trip.

A pre-trial agreement with prosecutors enabled Connor to avoid a conviction if he stayed out of trouble for a year, according to the 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report.

After time at a psychiatrist treatment facility in Canada where sexually abusive priests were often sent, Camden's then-Bishop George Guilfoyle asked Bishop Bevilacqua to accept him because Connor's return to Camden would create scandal.

Despite the treatment facility's warning that Connor not work with adolescents and despite the objections of the Rev. Nicholas Dattilo, then a clergy personnel aide, Bishop Bevilacqua assigned Connor as chaplain at Sewickley Valley Hospital in October 1985. The priest lived at St. James Church in Sewickley during that time, according to the Pittsburgh diocese.

From October 1986 to July 1988, Connor worked as parochial vicar at St. Alphonsus.

When Bishop Bevilacqua left to take over the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1988, Datillo revoked his St. Alphonsus assignment, according to the grand jury report. Then-Archbishhop Bevilacqua brought Connor to work in Philadelphia, where the grand jury report said he maintained a questionable relationship with an adolescent male.

Connor's current status was not immediately available, according to a Diocese of Camden spokesman.

Dattilo went on to become bishop of Harrisburg and died in 2004.








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