PITTSBURGH - What started with one former student accusing one cleric at the former North Catholic High School of sexual abuse has mushroomed into one of the biggest scandals in the Pittsburgh diocese's history, involving five members of a religious order and 12 possible victims.
Former male and female students allege abuse by brothers of the Marianist order from the school during the 1950s and '60s. A spokeswoman for the Marianists in St. Louis did not return calls.
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“We've heard from more people (Wednesday) to whom we will want to reach out and help with counseling if needed,” said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop David Zubik was unavailable for comment.
Lengwin said the accusations put the North Catholic case first in the number of clergy involved and second in the number of victims. He said 15 to 20 people starting in 1986 accused defrocked priest Jack Hoehl, the former headmaster at Quigley High School in Baden, of sexual abuse.
He said one alleged victim at North Catholic was a woman calling about what happened when she was a girl, and the others were men talking about what happened when they were boys. One of the men said his brother may have been abused, too.
The diocese views the latest allegations “with a great deal of sadness for those who have been victimized,” Lengwin said.
On March 20, the diocese learned that Marianist Brother Bernard Hartman, 74, a former science teacher at North Catholic, is awaiting trial in Australia on charges he molested four students at a Catholic school there in the 1970s and '80s.
The diocese sent a letter March 28 to North Catholic alumni alerting them of the allegations. Then the diocese received an accusation of abuse by Hartman here. It also received complaints about three more brothers from the same religious order who worked at the school.
So on April 24 the diocese sent a letter alerting 9,000 alumni of North Catholic High School about all four brothers.
Lengwin identified the other three as William Charles Hildenbrand, who was at the school from 1951 to 1961; Francis Meder, who was there from 1952 to 1967 and 1970 to 1976; and Ralph August Mravintz, who was at the school from 1960 to 1964. Hildenbrand died in 1979, Meder in 1976 and Mravintz in 2006.
Lengwin said the diocese received a letter on Monday alleging abuse by a fifth Marianist, Brother John Keegan, who left the religious community in 1962. Lengwin said he did not know if Keegan is still alive.
By the diocese's records, Hartman and Mravintz accounted for one allegation each; Hildebrand and Meder, four each; and Keegan, two.
Diocesan officials notified the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office of the allegations, though the only brother known to be alive lives outside the country.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said his office received information about the potential victims of the three confirmed deceased brothers, but nothing on Keegan. “So there is nothing we could pursue at this point.”
Carmen DiGiacomo, a 1959 graduate of North Catholic, said he was not surprised by the allegations.
“All I ever heard was rumors when I was there. Back then, you had a tendency not to believe it,” said DiGiacomo, 72, of Mt. Lebanon.
He publishes a monthly class newsletter and organizes class reunions.
After sending out letters for a reunion 20 years ago, he received a response from a classmate that made him suspect sexual abuse.
After receiving the diocese's April letter, he contacted the classmate, who said he was abused. DiGiacomo declined to say who his classmate said molested him.
“It obviously created some rancor. I'm sure he harbors ill feelings,” DiGiacomo said.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on the diocese to post on its website the names of dozens of proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics, especially those who are still alive.
“Before we raised concerns and contacted journalists, the bishop and the diocese apparently said and did nothing about Brother Hartman,” Clohessy said in a prepared statement. “We hope every single person who saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in Pittsburgh — whether in a school or parish — will come forward, get help, call police, expose wrongdoers and start healing.”
Lengwin said the diocese reacted promptly, sending out the first letter eight days after it learned of Hartman's prosecution in Australia.
He said the diocese has started programs over the decades to ensure the safety of children. In 1995, the diocese encouraged parents to teach children the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate touch. In 2002, the diocese trained adults to better understand sexual abuse and to recognize danger signs.
North Catholic was renamed Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in 2013. The Troy Hill building will close at the end of the school year, and the school will move to a new campus in Cranberry in the fall.
Staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed. Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.