York Daily Record
Published 6:43 PM EDT Sep 17, 2018
A Pennsylvania man and a Catholic school kindergartner are the representative plaintiffs in a class action suit seeking the full disclosure of all Catholic dioceses' records concerning sexual abuse by priests.
The complaint was filed Monday in Pittsburgh while untold numbers of people who were allegedly sexually assaulted by predatory priests wait for the Pennsylvania legislature to determine if they have a "window of justice" to seek legal redress.
The adult plaintiff, Ryan O'Connor, says he was abused by a priest between the ages of 10 and 12. O'Connor says he remains a member of the Catholic Church, and his children attend Catholic school.
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The child plaintiff is represented in the suit by his mother, Kristen Hancock, who is active in her son's school and volunteers as a homeroom mother.
Individually, they represent two classes of plaintiffs in the suit -- survivors of priest abuse and children in Catholic schools who potentially are at risk of priest abuse.
Filed in Allegheny Common Pleas Court, the lawsuit alleges that eight Pennsylvania dioceses, seven bishops and an archbishop named as defendants have continued to protect, support and cover for predatory priests.
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The complaint asks the court to order the defendants to:
- Prove they have met their mandatory child abuse reporting requirements and given the identities of all predatory priests to law enforcement;
- Disclose all further information and records in their position pertaining to the abuse of children by members of the clergy;
- Allow others to provide additional information concerning abuse allegations either as victims or witnesses;
- Admit that the illegal, abusive acts occurred;
- Publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing;
- And, be compelled to immediately disclose the identity of individuals they know to be dangerous to children.
The suit contends the release of all information will allow parents and caretakers to protect their children.
The suit further contends that failure to release information that validates the abuse allegations is, in itself, "retributive" and "pits survivors against the denials of extremely formidable authority figures and leads to years of emotional and psychological harm."
The complaint notes that the recent grand jury report that identified 301 predatory priests in Pennsylvania "emphasized it did not believe the report identified all predator priests and that many victims never came forward."
"Lack of a complete accounting and disclosure ... constitutes a clear and present danger," the suit concludes.
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The plaintiffs are not seeking any monetary damages, but are requesting attorney and expert witness fees and "any and all other legal or equitable relief that the court may deem proper and just."
Benjamin Sweet, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said the Catholic church is "meticulous" about records, and he believes there are files and information that "contain damaging information" that have not been turned over to law enforcement or shared with the public.
He said that O'Connor had been "grappling with whether he wanted to go public with this" for "20-something years."
The lawsuit is "a real act of courage on his part," Sweet said.
Rachel A. Bryson, executive director of public relations for the Diocese of Harrisburg, said Monday afternoon that their attorneys have just received a copy of the suit and are reviewing it.
- The Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Scranton and Altoona-Johnstown and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia;
- Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput and Bishops Alfred Andrew Schlert, Mark Leonard Bartchak, Lawrence T. Persico, Edward C. Malesic, Rronald William Gainer, David Zubic and Joseph Bambera.
Follow Rick Lee on Twitter: @RickLeeYDR