Lawsuit filed against Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, first since release of grand jury report

By Bob Mayo
August 28, 2018

[with video]

What appears to be the first lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh since the release of a state grand jury report on clergy child sex abuse was filed Tuesday.

The suit was filed on behalf of James Saitta, who alleges he was subjected to nearly five years of sexual abuse starting in 1979 when he was 12 years old.

Saitta's attorney said the alleged abuser, the Rev. John Hoehl, was then a priest and headmaster at Quigley High School in Baden, Beaver County. The abuse of Saitta allegedly happened repeatedly at Hoehl's residence at the school and at Hoehl's cabin in Somerset County.

The grand jury report shows more than 20 other complaints of child sexual abuse against Hoehl were on file with the diocese during that era, decades ago.

"He has suffered tremendously from this over the years. He kept silent, not knowing that the church knew about (Hoehl) and not knowing that he was one of so many victims of this particular priest," said Saitta's attorney, Alan Perer. "They sent him (to Hoehl) for counseling. During that, seeing him for counseling, is when he started the abuse. It's repulsive, to tell you the truth."

The diocese, Bishop David Zubik and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a former Pittsburgh bishop, are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Saitta, now 51, was told by authorities seven years ago that the statute of limitations had run out for his case. Perer argues that revelations about the Pittsburgh diocese in the grand jury report change that.

"Because of what was included in the grand jury report, we are seeking to expand the statute of limitations on claims against the diocese -- not against the offending priest, only against the diocese -- related to their concealment, their conspiracy of silence, so that victims such as my client, James Saitta could never have discovered the cover-up, the widespread abuse by this priest until now," Perer said. "Because of the cover-up, because of the conspiracy, because these people couldn't know that they were among dozens of victims and that the church knew about it."

Perer told Pittsburgh's Action News 4 that he has spoken to nearly a dozen other alleged victims for whom the statute of limitations has run out and who may also file suit.

"It's not fair to allow them to say that the statute of limitations has expired when, in fact, they hid the information and they hid the evidence that you would need to bring the case within the statute of limitations," Perer said.

Perer has a similar lawsuit on behalf of another alleged victim against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese on appeal to Pennsylvania Superior Court. He hopes the cases will bring the issue of the statute of limitations before the state's top court.

"We are hoping that these cases are all going to go to the Supreme Court and under existing Pennsylvania law," Perer said.

The Pittsburgh diocese said it was not able to comment on the Saitta lawsuit.

"Regarding the new lawsuit, we have not yet been served with any legal notification. We cannot comment on pending legal action," said the Rev. Nicholas Vaskov, a diocese spokesman.

Hoehl, who now lives in Somerset County, could not be reached for comment.



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