Erie Diocese Issues Statement on Abuse-related Lawsuits
By Marcie Schellhammer
August 27, 2020
Despite a policy of declining comment on litigation, the Erie Diocese did just that Wednesday, reminding the public that the ability of 31 suits lodged against the diocese to move forward depends on the success of a case being considered in the state Supreme Court.
The 31 cases, one of which was filed in McKean County by abuse survivor Ed Rodgers, relate to allegations of sexual abuse dating back years, and are not new allegations, the statement indicated.
“In June 2019, the state Superior Court ruled that the lawsuit of plaintiff Rene?e Rice, who sued the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for fraud-based claims, could move forward. The Rice suit claims that an earlier grand jury report, issued in March 2016 and not involving the Diocese of Erie, demonstrated that the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had covered up abuse. Two years later, in August 2018, the 40th Statewide Grand Jury Report was released, detailing past abuse in six other Pennsylvania dioceses, including Erie,” the statement read.
“As in the Rice case, the recently filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Erie allege the 2018 report demonstrated that the Diocese of Erie, as well as other dioceses, had covered up abuse,” the statement indicated. “Because the statute of limitations for fraud-based claims is two years, it appears that plaintiffs’ counsel believed they had two years from the issuance of the 40th Statewide Grand Jury Report to file lawsuits against the Diocese of Erie pursuant to Rice.”
The state Superior Court ruled in favor of Rice; the Catholic Church appealed. The state Superior Court has said it would review the decision, but has yet to schedule oral arguments in the case.
“Whether or not that case and those like it can move forward depends upon the ruling, which has not yet been given,” the Erie Diocese’s statement read. “In its ongoing commitment to transparency, the Diocese of Erie acknowledges it is aware of the lawsuits and will continue to monitor the situation. It remains committed to addressing the needs of survivor-victims as well as to continuing its many ministries ranging from education and evangelization to charitable outreach efforts.”
According to court records, most of the suits allege the plaintiffs were sexually abused, that the diocese covered up the abuse, and that the plaintiffs did not learn about the true extent of the abuse and the alleged cover-up until Attorney General Josh Shapiro made public a grand jury report in August 2018.
Rodgers’ suit, filed in McKean County Court Aug. 11, alleges he underwent sexual abuse while a student at Bradford Central Christian High School, from 1987 to 1990, by priests Desmond McGee and Michael Amy.