Diocese sued again over alleged abuse

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 18, 2018

A man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in the early 1980s in Monroeville is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and its two most recent bishops, alleging they covered up for the abuser and failed to report him to authorities.

The lawsuit by Richard Bieranowski alleges fraud, conspiracy and constructive conspiracy on the part of the diocese, current Bishop David Zubik and his predecessor, now-Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

It said former priest William Yockey sexually abused him in 1981 and 1982 while he was assigned to St. Bernadette Parish in Monroeville. It said then-Father Yockey exploited the boy’s trust in him as a mentor and sexually abused him in settings including the church rectory.

The lawsuit said Mr. Bieranowski only learned of the extent of the diocese’s alleged cover-up with the August release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on seven decades of abuse and coverup within Pittsburgh’s and five other dioceses.

The argument is similar to that used in numerous other lawsuits against Catholic dioceses that are making their way through Pennsylvania courts. The statute of limitations normally bars lawsuits alleging decades-old abuse, but the plaintiffs in this and other cases argue they couldn’t have known of the church’s alleged fraud and conspiracy in covering for abusive priests until the grand jury investigations.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but attorney George Kontos, representing Mr. Bieranowski, said his client authorized the use of his name.

Mr. Bieranowski, now of Connellsville, says the diocese conspired to cover up abuse, including by transferring known abusers to new parishes and failing to warn parents about them.

The grand jury said the diocese knew as early as 1986 about Mr. Yockey’s alleged criminal actions, although it did not elaborate on what happened that year.

The grand jury said it had no documentation of the diocese ever reporting allegations against Mr. Yockey to prosecutors before 2014.

The grand jury said a 25-year-old man reported to the diocese that year that he had been molested at age 16 by then-Father Yockey after a night of heavy drinking.

The report said Mr. Yockey admitted to the incident and resigned the priesthood. 

Mr. Yockey went on to become a licensed social worker. He never faced criminal charges, and accusations against him did not surface publicly until the grand jury report. After subsequent publicity, he was fired from the Ohio counseling agency where he worked.

The lawsuit also noted the diocese never publicly explained frequent assignment shifts for Father Yockey, which is a feature of the assignment records of some priests facing accusations.



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