Dozens of Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuits Filed in Allegheny, Westmoreland Courts As Possible Deadline Looms
By Rich Cholodofsky
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
August 13, 2020
More than two dozen lawsuits that allege sexual abuses by priests were filed Thursday ahead of what lawyers suggest could be a deadline to file legal action two years after the release of a grand jury report that detailed claims involving Catholic dioceses throughout Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh lawyer Alan Perer filed 25 cases Thursday against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and two that alleged misconduct by the Greensburg diocese.
“Our theory is that until the grand jury report that came out on Aug. 14, 2018, all of this stuff was hidden and people didn’t hear about this before. Theoretically, it’s not a statutory barrier, but as a precaution we’re making sure we get these (lawsuits) filed within two years,” Perer said.
A legal ruling by the state’s Superior Court last year reset the bar to file lawsuits against the church over sexual misconduct claims.
The appeals court upheld a prior opinion by a three-judge panel that overturned a Blair County judge’s decision to dismiss a clergy sexual abuse claim against the Altoona-Johnstown diocese that fell outside the statute of limitations that bars lawsuits filed after an abuse survivor’s 30th birthday.
Attorneys said it’s unclear if there now is a definitive deadline to file church-related lawsuits but doing so within two years of the grand jury report’s release could negate an argument from the dioceses to have the cases dismissed for timeliness reasons.
“If we don’t file them before tomorrow (Friday), they will raise statute of limitations arguments,” said Richard Serbin, an Altoona-based lawyer who filed dozens of lawsuits against the Catholic dioceses throughout Pennsylvania.
One case filed this week in Westmoreland County was on behalf of a former Blairsville man who claimed at age 11 he was molested by a priest at the St. Benedict Parish in Marguerite during the summer of 1968.
According to the lawsuit, the Rev. Giles Nealen, who died in 1996, forced the boy to have sex.
A second lawsuit claimed the Rev. Leonard Bealko molested a 12-year-old altar boy more than 200 times over four years that ended in 1978 at Transfiguration Church in Mt. Pleasant, his home and a church-owned rectory in Clymer.
In both cases, the alleged victims contend church officials were aware of the priest’s conduct, dissuaded victims from going to the police and enacted a cover-up that was not disclosed prior to the grand jury report that revealed seven decades of sexual abuse allegations against 301 Catholic priests throughout the state.
The nearly 900-page report named 20 priests associated with the Greensburg diocese and another 99 from Pittsburgh as sexual predators.
Nealen was among those named in the report released by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Perer said the alleged victims in both lawsuits filed in Westmoreland County have experienced nightmares, alcohol abuse issues and suicidal tendencies.
“Just a few springs ago, he stood on a cliff but couldn’t get himself to jump,” Perer said of one client, now 63 and living in California.
Jerry Zufelt, a spokesman for the Greensburg diocese, declined to comment, saying the church had not yet been served with the latest lawsuits.
As of last fall, the Greensburg diocese paid out $4.35 million from a victim compensation fund to settle claims with 57
adults who alleged sexual misconduct by the church.
Zufelt said Thursday the church would issue an update of the fund’s expenditures and settlements next week.