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Allentown Diocese To Face Abuse Suits

Attorneys today to announce actions by five people who allege sexual molestation by five priests

Jan 13, 2004 | Allentown Morning Call

Five people who claim they were sexually molested by five priests intend to sue the Allentown Catholic Diocese. The civil lawsuits will be outlined at a news conference this morning in Wyomissing, Berks County.

Reached Monday night, diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said he didn't know about the news conference.

''I don't know whether these are things we're aware of or not,'' he said, noting that diocesan officials have not heard of any new sexual abuse allegations. The diocese includes Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Berks and Schuylkill counties.

The suits follow the dismissal of seven priests and another priest's resignation from the Allentown Diocese over sexual allegations since 2000. Two years ago, district attorneys in the five counties said allegations of sexual molestation against 23 of the diocese's priests were too old to prosecute.

The news release did not reveal the plaintiffs' names or whether they were listed among the 23 sexual-abuse complaints the diocese had received over decades. The diocese permitted the district attorneys to review personnel files of the accused priests in 2002 after the church scandals broke nationwide.

An audit released last week showed that the Allentown Diocese is complying with the U.S. bishops' policy on sexual abuse prevention adopted in June 2002 to protect children and teens. The diocese of 270,000 Catholics also was commended for expanding a program aimed at helping members and clergy deal with the allegations facing the church.

David Cerulli, who is expected to speak at the news conference today, reached a $40,000 out-of-court settlement with the Allentown Diocese in 1991 after accusing the late Rev. John Paul Sabas of abusing him 35 years ago.

Cerulli, who started a local chapter of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, could not be reached for comment Monday night.

In August, the Allentown Diocese and its insurance carrier reached a $275,000 settlement with an undisclosed Texas minor who allegedly was abused by one of its former priests, the Rev. Edward R. Graff.

Graff, who died in 2002 after leaving the Allentown Diocese, was arrested in Texas for allegedly assaulting a 15-year-old boy. Authorities there said there were reports that Graff assaulted 15 victims in Texas and a dozen in Pennsylvania.

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