Judge Says Parents Can Sue Diocese over Abuse Reporting
By Crispin Havener
Associated Press and WJAC
January 9, 2020
PITTSBURGH (WJAC/AP) — A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that parents of children in the Roman Catholic Church and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy members can move forward with a lawsuit against the Diocese of Pittsburgh alleging that it has not fulfilled its obligations under state law to report child sexual abusers.
The parents and survivors claim that the Pittsburgh diocese along with the other seven Pennsylvania dioceses have created a public nuisance by failing to report every allegation of child abuse and are asking that they be compelled to release information about all known allegations.
The ruling this week granted a preliminary dismissal to the state's other dioceses because the lawsuit did not include specific allegations against them. However, Allegheny County Judge Christine A. Ward gave the attorneys for the parents and survivors 30 days to amend the lawsuit to include plaintiffs who believe they have standing before she will consider whether to dismiss the other dioceses as defendants.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the lawsuit is the first time a private citizen has been allowed to challenge an institution to prove it is complying with a reporting law.
The 2018 lawsuit asked that the dioceses be compelled to publicly release all information they had given to the grand jury and to provide a mechanism so that alleged victims could review records to make sure their allegations exist in the church’s files, are accurate and have been sent to law enforcement.
All eight Pennsylvania diocese in the suit asked the court to immediately dismiss the class action, arguing that they are in compliance as mandatory reporters. The plaintiff lawyers argued that they could all but render the lawsuit moot by making an offer of proof to the court that they’ve performed their obligation as a mandatory reporter.
“However, the church did nothing to prove that they are in compliance with state mandatory reporting laws, instead they relied on technical legal defenses to avoid having to disclose what we believe to be the truth: that there are countless predatory priests within Pennsylvania whose identities remain known only to the church and to their victims,” said Timothy Hale, attorney for the survivors and parents.
"This is yet another example of secular officials and the justice system forcing change and transparency that has long been promised – but failed to be delivered – by institutions," said Judy Jones, Midwest Regional Leader for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Courts, not words from church officials, are the best pathway to true change."
A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh diocese said she could not comment on the judge’s decision because of the pending litigation.