Three more lawsuits alleging sexual abuse filed against Diocese of Scranton

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
Citizens Voice
November 16, 2020

Three more people who allege they were sexually abused by priests as children filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Scranton.

Two of the lawsuits were filed by men who allege they were molested at St. Dominic’s Parish in Wilkes-Barre in the early 1970s. The third suit, filed by a female, alleges a priest at St. Ignatius Church in Kingston raped her in 1972, when she was 7.

The lawsuits are among dozens of lawsuits filed against the diocese on behalf of abuse victims.

Two of the most recent complaints filed by Kingston attorney Kevin Quinn relate to abuse at St. Dominic’s. One man alleges he was molested at age 11 by the Rev. Gerald Burns in 1972, while the other man was abused at age 7, by the Rev. William Culnane, in 1971. The third suit identifies the Rev. Neil McLaughlin, who was a member of the Society of Jesus but served in the diocese, as the abuser.

Each lawsuit alleges church officials knew the clergy members were abusing children, but instead of stopping it they transferred them to other parishes. The suits name as defendants the Diocese of Scranton, retired Bishop James Timlin and current Bishop Joseph Bambera.

Eric Deabill, spokesman for the diocese, said the diocese does not comment on pending litigation.

The allegations against Culnane were filed by Jeffery A. Stucker of Wilkes-Barre, who claims Culnane once forced him to perform oral sex on Culnane behind the church’s altar. He also groped and penetrated him two other times.

The Citizens’ Voice does not ordinarily identify victims of sexual abuse, but Stucker asked to be identified.

The lawsuit that accuses Burns was filed by a man identified only by his initials. The man alleges Burns repeatedly abused him under the guise of educating him about sex. The abuse, which included masturbation and fondling, occurred in the church rectory and at an area restaurant.

The suit filed by the woman, identified as “Jane Doe,” alleges McLaughlin offered the girl a ride home after catechism class one night. He then drove to a parking lot of an elementary school and raped her in the back seat of his car.

Burns, who died in 1999, is among more than 300 priests identified in a 2018 grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

McLaughlin is not named in the report but is on the diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy members. Information on McLaughlin’s clerical status could not be obtained.

Culnane is not named in the grand jury report and does not appear on the Scranton diocese’s credibly accused list. Quinn said as far as he knows, his client is the first person to accuse Culnane. Culnane remains a priest and is now retired, said Deabill.

Deabill declined to comment on whether the diocese will investigate Culnane based on allegations in the suit. Speaking generally, he said it considers information from “all available sources” in ensuring the safety of children.



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