Former Youngstown Priest Sues Diocese for Unsubstantiated Abuse Claims
By Justin Dennis
October 29, 2020
YOUNGSTOWN — The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown is facing another defamation suit from a former Youngstown priest.
The diocese in October 2018 published former St. Edward Parish priest William Smaltz’s name in a list of diocesan clergy who have been accused of sexually abusing a minor.
The diocese in May removed Smaltz’s name from the list, after it received new information and followed up on the claims against him, and found them to be unsubstantiated.
But Smaltz’s lawsuit, filed Friday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, claims the damage to his reputation had already been done.
According to the suit, the diocese did not interview Smaltz on the abuse allegations, which the suit calls “inconsistent and vague.”
“A different priest who was serving at the same parish as Mr. Smaltz has been charged on multiple accounts of sexual abuse/misconduct whose identity the accuser most likely confused with Mr. Smaltz,” reads the suit. “Despite inconsistencies and lack of investigation, the [diocese] claimed that the witness’ statements were credible.”
The suit does not identify the “different priest.”
Smaltz, who was ordained in 1956 and served 18 years in the diocese, also served at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in East Palestine, St. Mary Parish in Conneaut and St. Mary Parish of Massillon, according to the diocese’s October 2018 publication.
Vindicator archives searched that month showed Smaltz was also affiliated with Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Austintown, the former St. Mary Home for the Aged, the former Westwood Rehabilitation Center in Boardman as well as Walsh College and St. Anthony Parish in Canton.
The lawsuit, which calls the diocese’s publication “reckless,” brings several claims for defamation, the false light of his public portrayal and intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeks an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
The suit also names Smaltz’s wife, Noreen Smaltz, as a plaintiff in a loss-of-consortium charge.
Court records do not indicate the diocese has been served, and do not list an attorney for the diocese.
A little more than a year ago, former Queen of the Holy Rosary priest Denis Bouchard of Vienna also sued the diocese for defamation relating to claims that he sexually abused a minor. That suit was also aimed at Bouchard’s accuser, whose claims caused Bouchard to be suspended from the diocese in November 2018.
Unlike Smaltz, the diocese never listed Bouchard’s name among those credibly accused of sex abuse involving a minor.
Bouchard’s still-pending case seeks more than $50,000 in damages and is set to return to mediation in June of next year. A jury trial is tentatively set for next August.
On Oct. 19, the diocese updated its list to include Brother Charles O’Neill, now deceased, who was assigned to St. Mary Friary in Columbiana from 1975 to 1976.
The order of Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province informed the Youngstown diocese 10 days prior it had substantiated sex abuse allegations against O’Neill, “who lived for a time” in the local diocese.