Allentown Diocese sued over new clergy sex abuse complaint
By Emily Opilo
December 02, 2019
|A woman has sued the Allentown Diocese over what she alleges was 16 years of sexual abuse by diocesan priest Joseph A. Rock -- one of 300 Pennsylvania priests named in a 2018 grand jury report and the subject of numerous complaints made to the diocese.|
Photo by Rick Kintzel
A woman has sued the Allentown Diocese over what she alleges was 16 years of sexual abuse by diocesan priest Joseph A. Rock, one of 300 Pennsylvania priests named in a 2018 grand jury report and the subject of numerous complaints made to the diocese.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of Atlantic County, New Jersey, alleges that Rock, a priest who worked at churches in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks and Schuylkill counties between 1972 and 2001, abused the unnamed woman beginning when she was 13. She’s 58 now and living in North Carolina.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified punitive damages, was one of at least two filed Monday in New Jersey courts that involved Pennsylvania dioceses. A New Jersey law that took effect Sunday allows victims of child sex abuse to sue until they turn 55, or within seven years of their first realization the abuse caused them harm. The previous limit was two years.
Victims who were previously barred from suing because they didn’t act during the allotted time period now have a two-year window to file claims.
Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said Monday that the diocese will review the lawsuit when it is received. He noted that Rock was removed from ministry in 2001, and his diocesan file was among those turned over to multiple local district attorneys in 2002. Rock was defrocked at the diocese’s request in 2005, Kerr said.
The plaintiff in the Allentown lawsuit, referred to as “Jane Doe” in the court documents, met Rock in Atlantic City in 1974 when he was a “well-respected” family friend as a result of his status as a priest. Rock worked for Catholic Scouting of the Allentown Area at the time, according to the 2018 grand jury report in which Rock was named as a predator priest.
According to the lawsuit, the abuse began when Rock “babysat” Doe for three days in 1974 and forced her to touch his penis and allow him to touch her genitalia, according to the lawsuit. Doe was then repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse including “indecent contact, oral sex and anal sex," the suit states. Rock also took pictures of Doe to use as blackmail if she were to report the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.
For more than a decade, Rock continued to abuse Doe, the suit states, and took her on several trips to different states. Trips included Atlantic City in 1974 and 1975, her grandmother’s house in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, between 1974 and 1979, Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1976 and throughout Pennsylvania including Allentown, Bethlehem and Reading.
Rock also allegedly took Doe to New York City repeatedly between 1975 and 1978 where he had her meet with another unnamed priest in the Little Italy neighborhood. That priest also sexually abused her during each visit, according to the lawsuit, which does not name him.
In 1979, as Doe was about to turn 18, Rock confronted her and said he would continue to abuse her after she became an adult, according to the lawsuit. The priest allegedly threatened to spread secrets about Doe’s sexuality to her family and members of the community and reveal intimate pictures and videos if she did not allow the abuse to continue, the lawsuit states. The abuse continued until 1990, when Doe fled New Jersey and cut off contact with Rock, according to the lawsuit.
Rock is not named in the lawsuit, and an attorney for the former priest was not listed on the court filing.
The lawsuit states that Rock’s sexual “misconduct” with minors was known to the Allentown Diocese.
“The diocese repeatedly concealed its knowledge of credible accusations of sexual abuse against Rock and instead of removing him from ministry, engaged in a pattern of investigating Rock’s accusers in attempts to discredit them both privately and, when necessary to protect the Diocese, publicly,” the lawsuit alleges.
The grand jury report, where Rock was named among more than 300 Pennsylvania predator priests, backs up that assertion, although it does not mention any allegations against Rock until the 1980s. The report details the abuse of more than 1,000 children across the state. It lists 37 priests from the Allentown Diocese, and the diocese since has added 20 names to the list.
According to the grand jury report, two accusations were made to the diocese about Rock in 1986, all involving alleged sexual contact with three boys. In 1983 Rock allegedly fondled and masturbated a 9-year-old boy, the report states. The other accusation was made by two brothers who claimed Rock touched them sexually through their clothes in the early 1980s when they were minors.
According to the grand jury report, Rock was placed on “sick leave” and sent to Servants of Paraclete in New Mexico in 1986. Diocesan records, obtained by the grand jury, stated there was a “bleak picture” for Rock’s prognosis. In February of that year, the diocese was told Rock was “no longer capable of functioning in a responsible work situation, and his life is unmanageable,” the report states. In June of that year, it states, a staff member at the New Mexico facility said Rock was “one of the worst cases he ever encountered.”
In 1987, then Bishop Thomas Welsh limited Rock’s ministry to Holy Family Manor, a nursing home and retirement facility for priests, according to the report. But the diocese continued to receive complaints about Rock. In 2000, the diocese paid a $305,000 settlement to a man who said Rock sexually abused him as a minor. Others came forward in 2003 and 2007, the grand jury said.
The grand jury cited an interview the church officials conducted with Rock after the 2003 complaint. During it, Rock said he could not remember the allegation, but admitted it could have happened “since the incident is in keeping with the way he acted with other victims,” the grand jury wrote.
Rock retired in 2001 following complaints that he sexually abused two elderly male patients, the grand jury report said. He was dismissed from the priesthood in 2005.
The Pennsylvania grand jury’s investigation last year provided impetus for New Jersey legislators to act this year. About two dozen states have changed their laws on statutes of limitations this year, and several others have created so-called lookback windows for lawsuits, as New Jersey has. Pennsylvania lawmakers this month declined to pass a lookback provision, prompting some lawsuits to be filed in New Jersey.
Another lawsuit filed by two of five sisters against the Harrisburg Diocese and Archdiocese of Newark Monday alleges that a now-dead priest who had previously worked in both regions abused them and their siblings for nearly 10 years after he was transferred to Pennsylvania.
Rock’s parishes and assignments:
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Allentown 1972
Catholic Scouting, Allentown area 1972-1975
Catholic Youth Organization, Lehigh County 1972-1975
St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown 1972-1975
St. Ignatius Loyola, Reading 1975-1976
Scouts, Hawk Mountain, Berks County 1975-1976
Catholic Youth Organization, Berks County 1975-1976
Sts. Simon and Jude, Bethlehem 1976-1977
Scouts, Minsi Trails Council, Lehigh County 1976-1982
Catholic Youth Organization, Bethlehem 1976-1982
Our Lady of Help Christians, Allentown 1977-1982
St. Francis de Sales, Mount Carbon 1982-1986
Catholic Scouting, Diocese of Allentown 1983-1986
Holy Family Manor 1986-2001