Sex Abuse Records Sought

Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
June 18, 2005

A lawyer will attempt to unseal records of two sexual abuse cases from 1983 in a new lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg.

Altoona attorney Richard M. Serbin said he will try to open pretrial pleadings and discovery that were sealed by a Westmoreland County judge more than two decades ago. The pleadings could support a lawsuit he filed Thursday on behalf of a former altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.

"At some point, we will attempt to unseal that discovery," Serbin said. "For unexplainable reasons, those records were just sealed."

Serbin filed a 13-count lawsuit on behalf of Brian G. Guarino, 41, of Laurel, Md., who claims he was sexually abused by the Rev. Roger J. Trott when Guarino was 10 years old. Guarino served as an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral from 1973 to 1976.

The diocese and retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco were named as defendants.

The complaint alleges that Trott supplied wine to Guarino at a restaurant after a Mass for then-Bishop William G. Connare and then sexually abused him. The alleged abuse continued for two years in the church basement or in a wooded area behind the church, the complaint said.

Trott also was accused of having sexual contact with altar boys between June 1986 and June 1987 while pastor of St. John Baptist de la Salle Church in Delmont. He pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and was sentenced to probation and a residential treatment program at St. Luke's Institute in Suitland, Md.

After completion of the treatment program, he relocated to New York.

Serbin alleges that Connare, who died in 1995, "intentionally misrepresented to the court the scope and depth of the problem of sexual abuse of children by priests of the diocese of Greensburg."

The bishop argued in court papers that "it is specifically denied that the matter between the parties to the actions at issue involves a matter of public interest and concern."

Diocesan attorneys said the pleadings -- excluding discovery materials -- were unsealed in June 1987. The discovery materials would have included depositions and interrogation materials.

Connare's statement was taken out of context, they said. It may have referenced the discovery material.

The 1983 cases alleged that Connare knew, or should have known, that a priest in the diocese was molesting children and that he failed to notify authorities of the alleged abuse.

In 1984, then-Westmoreland County Judge Donetta W. Ambrose approved the diocese's motion to seal the pretrial pleadings and discovery and prohibited the dissemination of information gained through discovery by the plaintiffs.

Serbin said "extraordinary protection" afforded by the court to the defendants was provided in other cases involving the sexual abuse of children by priests and/or employees of the diocese.

The complaint alleged that Connare "transferred or reassigned offending clerics to new parishes, exposing a new population of children to unreasonable risk or injury, while covering up and misrepresenting in parish newsletters and bulletins the abusive conduct which prompted the transfer."

A Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling could be raised in the Guarino case.

In March, the appeals court tossed out 18 cases against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, saying that under Pennsylvania law, claims for intentional conduct, negligence and conduct based in fraud are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

Serbin said he hopes that ruling will be reversed on appeal. He said he thinks the Guarino case falls within the exceptions.

As part of a nationwide detailing last year of the scope of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, the diocese reported paying more than $352,000 for counseling and settlements related to 11 substantiated sexual abuse allegations since 1951.

The diocese pledged full cooperation in the case.

"We will cooperate with the civil authorities in this case and others that come before the court. We have a policy of openness and transparency," said Angela Burrows, executive director of infomedia services for the diocese.


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