Survivors of childhood sexual abuse suing 8 Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses

PITTSBURGH — Eight Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses and their bishops are being sued by survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The class action lawsuit filed Monday claims the dioceses failed to meet reporting obligations under Pennsylvania law and continue to conceal perpetrators from the public and law enforcement.

While the suit is going after the church as a mandatory reporter, the church was not a mandatory reporter in the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s -- when much of the abuse happened.

Pittsburgh, Altoona-Johnstown, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are the Catholic dioceses named in the suit, along with their bishops.

Seeking to compel the dioceses to meet their obligations as mandatory reporters under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of childhood sexual abuse survivors, as well as parents and their children who attend Catholic school.

“The dioceses’ efforts to circumvent Pennsylvania law make it impossible for parents and their children attending Catholic schools to know of the perpetrators, thereby placing their children at unique risk,” a news release said. “The concealment of these perpetrators also continues to victimize survivors, who seek to ensure others are not subjected to the same abuse they endured.”

Lead plaintiff Ryan O’Connor said he was sexually abused by his parish priest in the Johnstown area starting when he was 9-years-old. Now, as a practicing Catholic, he has two children enrolled in Catholic school.

“The healing process for survivors is excruciating,” O’Connor said in the release. “We are made to feel as though we must choose between our faith and our recovery. Key to this healing process is knowing that my own children aren’t in danger. I’m speaking out for all survivors and all parents who want to know why this church believes they are above the law. We’re here to tell them that they are not.”

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One of the men accused of being responsible for the culture is Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The report named him more than 200 times and accused him of overseeing a massive cover-up of child sexual abuse by priests when he was the bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese.

Since the report's release, Wuerl has issued several statements and held a mass for abuse victims on Friday, where he said the church will now begin a reflective six-week "season of healing."

O'Connor says Wuerl's words fall flat.

"Their words now are what the words were 20 years ago, empty," O'Connor said.

Wuerl has said he will meet very soon with Pope Francis about his resignation.

O'Connor says actions speak louder than words.

"I've not lost faith in my religion, I've lost faith in the men who are pulling the purse strings," O'Connor said.

According to the suit, with only 10 of 301 priests named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report listed on the state's Megan Law Database, the dioceses "have systematically failed to meet their reporting obligations."

With the filing of the lawsuit, the hope is that each diocese will be forced to submit the names of all suspected perpetrators within their ranks to law enforcement and provide proof to the court they have done so.