Judge Rejects Rape Lawsuit against Priest

By Jennifer M. Nagel
Erie Times-News (PA)
June 21, 1997

SMETHPORT _ A McKean County judge today dismissed all three defendants from a civil suit in which a former Roman Catholic school student claimed a Catholic priest repeatedly raped him. Judge John M. Cleland, citing a two-year statute of limitations, dismissed as defendants the Rev. H. Desmond McGee, Bradford Central Christian High School and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie. The plaintiff, 24-year-old Ed Rodgers of Bradford, claimed McGee had sexually assaulted him.

"We are extremely pleased with the results of the decision," Bishop Donald W. Trautman, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, said in a written statement.

"We feel vindicated by the system of justice. However, an issue remains: the cleansing of Father McGee's good name and reputation. We intend to consider carefully whatever legal recourse there is to address the question of slander."

Trautman said the diocese recognizes sexual abuses does occur in the church. But he emphasized that harm can be inflicted on innocent people who are unjustly accused.

Cleland's order is based on testimony from a June 6 hearing at the McKean County Courthouse. The attorneys for the three defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case. They argued that Rodgers had waited until April 1996 to file the suit based on incidents alleged to have occurred in 1988 and 1989.

Rodgers' lawyer, Raymond Bulson of Port Allegany, argued that the statute of limitations should not apply because a promise the diocese made had kept Rodgers quiet. Rodgers claimed the diocese promised to "put Father McGee in therapy and help me with my GED, and pay for therapy for me."

Erie attorney Frank L. Kroto Jr., representing the diocese and the school, hinted on June 6 that no such promise was made. And even if the promise existed, he said, Rodgers should have taken legal action when the promise was not kept.

Rodgers was seeking $50,000 in damages from each of the three defendants.

According to the McKean County Court's prothonotary's office, Cleland filed the order today dismissing the defendants.

Cleland also granted McGee's claim of emotional distress because of the suit, meaning the diocese could pursue the claim at a later date. And Cleland ruled that the high school did not have to refund Rodgers' tuition, as Rodgers had requested. Rodgers had been expelled.

Rodgers also had claimed terroristic phone calls from McGee had kept him from reporting the alleged incidents earlier. Cleland's motion stated that such phone calls, even if they were made, would not constitute an inducement to refrain from upholding the statue of limitations.

Rodgers accused McGee of raping or molesting him on 10 times between September 1988 and October 1989, while Rodgers was a student at Bradford Central Christian High School. McGee was the headmaster of the school at that time. McGee was suspended as headmaster in January after Rodgers filed the suit.

McGee had planned to retire at the end of the school year, one of his attorneys said.


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