Suspended Priest Sues Accusers

By Scott Hiaasen
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
August 20, 2002

A suspended priest accused of sexual misconduct fired back at his accusers yesterday, filing a lawsuit against them for defamation and invasion of privacy.

The Rev. Joseph Seminatore said he has been falsely accused of sexually molesting three men in a lawsuit they filed July 11 against the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

The men said they were abused as teenagers in the mid-1980s while living at Parmadale Family Services, a treatment center for troubled kids where Seminatore was a longtime chaplain.

Seminatore, 60, a priest since 1969, was suspended by the diocese in April, after the first abuse allegation surfaced. The Cuyahoga County Department of Children & Family Services, after investigating the claim, later said it could not be substantiated.

"It's a fraud on the court and a fraud on the diocese," said Ken Seminatore, the priest's brother and his lawyer.

Yesterday's suit, filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, cast the abuse accusations as part of a conspiracy including the alleged victims' lawyers, Howard Schulman and Stephen Bloom, who also aredefendants. Seminatore seeks $1 million from each of his accusers and the two lawyers.

Schulman and Bloom filed their lawsuit against the church - but not Seminatore - as a class action, anticipating that more people would come forward with complaints about the priest.

Bloom was out of town and could not be reached yesterday.

Schulman, who has filed at least three other suits against the diocese this year, said only that the priest's suit had no merit.

Seminatore's suit includes sworn statements from three Catholic Charities officials who said he did not have any past complaints of sexual misconduct in his personnel file. Catholic Charities oversees the Parmadale treatment center.

Though the alleged victims sued anonymously, Seminatore names Rodney Dukes, 32, of Cleveland, as one of his accusers.

The priest questioned Dukes' credibility and his motives, noting that Dukes has a criminal record, and that he filed for bankruptcy last year. Dukes has served three stints in prison for theft and domestic violence, records show.

Dukes should not be allowed to pursue his claim against the diocese, Ken Seminatore says, because he did not mention the upcoming lawsuit in his bankruptcy petition, as required. The bankruptcy court cleared Dukes' debts on April 4, records show, and days later, he first complained to the diocese about Seminatore.

Dukes could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Seminatore also filed affidavits from a dozen former Parmadale teens who said Seminatore did nothing inappropriate with them and that they saw nothing inappropriate between the priest and Dukes.

The accusations against Seminatore have also been challenged by the Cleveland diocese, which has asked that the victims' suit be dismissed. Robert Ducatman, a diocese lawyer, said the allegations are too vague to justify the complaint. In their lawsuit, Seminatore's accusers name no specific dates or incidents of abuse.


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