Pittsburgh Class Action Wants Catholic Church To Admit To Sexual Abuse Cover-Up
By Nicholas Malfitano
October 30, 2018
|Behind this cross is Pittsburgh, where a class action lawsuit asks a judge to make the Roman Catholic Church admit that it concealed the sexual abuse of hundreds of children throughout Pennsylvania.|
As the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office’s grand jury report into child sexual abuse committed statewide by members of the Roman Catholic Church continues, alleged victims have taken to suing the Church.
But a class action lawsuit - filed by Carlson Lynch of Pittsburgh, Berger Montague of Philadelphia and Nye Peabody of California - differs from others that have been filed since the grand jury report stated a staggering 1,000 children were sexually assaulted by hundreds of priests throughout the state.
This lawsuit does not seek damages. It could have been difficult to pursue a class action seeking damages with circumstances like these because it might have been hard to show each class member was harmed in a common way and owed a similar amount - requirements for the certification of a class.
Instead, a Verona plaintiff and a minor known as M.H. who lives in Mount Lebanon seek only injunctive relief - specifically, an admission that the Catholic Church covered up what was going on for years and the release of the records it has maintained.
Having a lone goal of injunctive relief in a class action case of this specific nature is something one Philadelphia attorney indicated was new to him.
“This looks like it’s taking existing class action case law, especially the cases on injunctions, and using them in a new way that I haven’t seen before," said John Macoretta of Spector Roseman & Kodroff said,
The lawsuit was filed against all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania: Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton – along with each Diocese’s bishops: Alfred Andrew Schert, Mark Leonard Bartchak, Lawrence T. Persico, Edward C. Malesic, Ronald William Gainer, Charles Joseph Chaput, David Zubik and Joseph Bambera, respectively.
The lawsuit states Ryan O’Connor was abused by clergy members from the ages of 10 to 12 years old and while W.H. is a kindergarten student who has not been abused, but whose guardian believes he is at risk for being targeted by one of the many priests whose names remain publicly unidentified.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently opened an investigation into the child sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania, looking to force the Church to turn over a host of records, testimony and other information.
"The Church's long-standing failure to release evidence that would validate a survivor's accusation of child sexual abuse by a Catholic priest is undeniably retributive," the lawsuit says.
"It pits survivors against the denials of extremely formidable authority figures, and leads to years of emotional and psychological harm.
"If, however, the facts are made public, it protects survivors and self-blame that arises when memories of sexual abuse are discounted by eminent perpetrators. Better yet, it insures victims the right to proper psychotherapeutic treatment."
In the grand jury report released August 14, it revealed findings stating more than 1,000 Pennsylvania children were raped or sexually abused by about 300 pedophile priests throughout six Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Altoona-Johnstown and Philadelphia, which were previously investigated) over several decades, along with the “systematic cover-up” of that same rape and sexual abuse by numerous leaders in the Church’s hierarchy, both in Pennsylvania and Vatican City.
Though the grand jury report is both detailed and comprehensive, it does not provide a complete accounting of the abuse, abusers and those covered who covered it up and allowed it to occur. This is what the class action is aimed at changing: To compel the Church to release records closing this gap caused by an alleged cover-up and in the process, abide by mandatory Pennsylvania reporting statutes.
“For example, the grand jury report states that the names of at least 20 predator priests and the church leadership that protected them are redacted from public disclosure and numerous others are identified only by their diocese and a number, depriving Pennsylvanians the ability to freely enjoy their communities without risking their children encountering these as-yet unnamed predators, and depriving the victims of these predators the comfort of knowing that their abusers have finally been public identified,” the suit states.
Of the 301 priests identified in the grand jury report, the lawsuit says 10 or less appear in Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law database.
The plaintiffs seek a wide variety of relief that consists of the following:
-An order certifying the proposed classes, appointing plaintiffs as the class representatives of them and appointing the firms that filed the case as class counsel;
-An order declaring that the defendants have violated their mandatory reporting obligations;
-An order compelling the defendants to meet their Mandatory Reporting Obligations on both a historical and going-forward basis;
-An order compelling the defendants to make a complete disclosure of all records and information in their possession during the time period from Sept. 17, 1948, to the present pertaining to sexual abuse of any minors (a special master who would protect sensitive information about victims is proposed to help with this step);
-An order compelling the Catholic Church to provide notice approved by the Court to Pennsylvanians of their right and opportunity to provide additional information as victims or witnesses relating to sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania;
-An order declaring that the acts that have formed the basis of the continuing public nuisance actually occurred and are unlawful;
-An order compelling defendants to be accountable for their actions and take responsibility by publicly acknowledging their wrongdoing;
-Alternatively, a writ of mandamus commanding defendants to report all child abuse presently known or suspected by the defendants; and
-Attorneys fees and costs, including expert fees.
The defendants have not yet filed a response to this lawsuit or the four others filed since August.