Three Adults File Separate Abuse Lawsuits against Pittsburgh Diocese

Associated Press State & Local Wire
February 4, 2004

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh protected and reassigned priests they knew or should have known were sexually abusing children, according to three lawsuits filed Wednesday on behalf of three alleged victims.

The plaintiffs, now adults, accuse three priests of sexually abusing them as children in unrelated episodes that occurred as long ago as 1965. The suit lists the defendants as the diocese, along with Bishop Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the former head of the Philadelphia archdiocese.

Richard M. Serbin, of the Altoona law firm of Serbin, Kovacs & Nypaver, and Alan H. Perer, of the Pittsburgh law firm of Swensen, Perer & Kontos, said the statute of limitations prevents legal action against the priests.

Serbin and Perer filed the lawsuits on behalf of Robert W. Wagner, Chris Matthews and a third man who did not want to be identified.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, denied the allegations and said no allegations had been made while the men were active priests in the Pittsburgh diocese.

One of the priests mentioned in the suit, William J. McCashin, died in 1967 and the Rev. Ralph J. Esposito has been a priest in the Little Rock, Ark., diocese since 1981, Lengwin said.

Esposito retired last year after being ill, said Monsignor Francis Malone, a vicar general for the Diocese of Little Rock, which covers the entire state of Arkansas.

Malone said there was nothing in Esposito's record, either before or after the priest's arrival, that would have raised an alarm.

"He served here and he retired a priest in good standing and was never removed. There never was cause to remove him," Malone said.

Malone said the bishops of Pittsburgh and Little Rock had an arrangement by which Catholic-sparse Arkansas would receive priests from Catholic-rich Pennsylvania.

"It's not unusual for the state to get priests from other cities," said Malone, who is from Philadelphia but trained for the priesthood after his arrival in Arkansas.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh diocese withdrew John W. Wellinger from the priesthood in March 2003 when he couldn't be located after failing to return from a leave of absence granted for health reasons in 1995, Lengwin said.

Lengwin said an allegation was made against Wellinger four months after Wellinger took leave and the diocese offered the accuser counseling.

It was not immediately clear why Bevilacqua was named. A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia archdiocese said she had no comment because she hadn't seen the suit and wasn't familiar with the allegations.


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