More Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Filed against Allentown Diocese
Three New Cases Bring Total Number of Civil Claims to 13

By Kathleen Parrish
Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
July 23, 2004

The Allentown Catholic Diocese is the target of three new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests, two of whom were accused in previous actions and one who has died in a Texas prison.

The new suits -- two filed in Lehigh County and one in Schuylkill County -- bring the total number of lawsuits against the diocese to 13, involving nine priests.

Named in the suits are the Rev. Francis J. McNelis, who retired in 2002 and is residing in Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem; the Rev. Francis Fromholzer, who taught at Allentown Central Catholic High School; and the Rev. Edward R. Graff, who left the Allentown Diocese in 1988 and was jailed in Texas in October 2002 on charges of molesting a teenage boy.

Graff died in jail a month later.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Jay Abramowitch of Wyomissing, near Reading, and Richard Serbin of Altoona, who also filed four new suits against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. All the new suits were filed Wednesday. The two represent about 75 people across the state in similar complaints.

In the suit against Fromholzer, Judy Bronstein, 53, who lives in Hawaii, claims she was sexually abused in 1965 by the priest during a trip to the Poconos while she was a ninth-grade student at Central Catholic High School.

She was 13 or 14 at the time, and Fromholzer was her religion teacher, according to the complaint, which mirrors an earlier suit filed by Julianne Bortz, a fellow student, who is co-director of the Allentown chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

Telling the girls he was taking them to "paradise," Fromholzer pulled out a blanket and radio from his car when they arrived in the Poconos, according to the suit. First, he molested Bortz on the blanket while Bronstein took a walk. When Bronstein returned, he made her lie down on the blanket and began kissing her and touching her breasts and genitals, according to the suit.

Robert Lucas, now 52 and a resident of California, alleges that when he was 15 or 16, McNelis, pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Girardville, forcibly performed oral sex on him after he caddied for the priest at a golf course. The abuse occured a second time in the church rectory, according to the suit.

Before being assigned to St. Joseph's in 1967, McNelis had served as pastor of Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Shenandoah, where Lucas was captain of the altar boys. McNelis maintained contact with Lucas so he could molest him, the suit said.

In the first local suit involving Graff, Joseph C. Reisinger, 46, of Allentown, alleges that Graff, a priest at St. Mary's Church in Catasauqua, started taking photographs of him naked when he was 12 or 13. Graff also would molest Reisinger in his bedroom at the parish rectory. Often before the abuse, Graff would make him drink alcohol until he was drunk, the suit said.

The abuse began in 1971 and continued almost daily for several years, ending in 1978 when Reisinger was 20 years old, according to the suit.

As with all the cases, the plaintiffs are suing the diocese and Bishop Edward P. Cullen and retired Bishop Thomas Welsh, saying they knew of the abuse and concealed it. While named, the priests are not charged because the two-year statute of limitations has expired.

Recently, the diocese challenged that legal maneuver in Lehigh County Court and asked that the cases be dismissed because the alleged abuse occurred between 1965 and 1982, but a three-judge panel ruled the plaintiffs' suits could proceed. The diocese can, however, raise the issue again at a later date, the judges said.

In a prepared statement, the diocese pointed out the most recent allegation in the suits occurred 25 years ago and a five-county investigation two years ago by

district attorneys concluded there were no prosecutable cases.

In addition, the diocese is committed to removing all clergy against whom

there is credible evidence of sexual abuse, the statement said.


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