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Four Sue Former Ohio Priest Over Alleged Abuse

Sep 20, 2002 | Morning Journal News

Three men and a 12-year-old boy sued two Roman Catholic dioceses on Thursday, saying they were abused by a priest who was dismissed in Youngstown and later hired by the Saginaw, Mich., diocese.

The civil lawsuit was the eighth of its kind filed in two days in Ohio by Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney whose firm said it has handled more than 500 cases of abuse by clergy in 20 years.

While many sexual abuse allegations against Ohio priests are from the 1960s to 1980s, the Michigan boy in the latest lawsuit said he was abused as recently as last year.

The Rev. John E. Hammer and both the Youngstown and Saginaw dioceses are named in the lawsuit, assigned to Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge R. Scott Krichbaum.

Hammer, 49, announced his resignation from the pulpit of St. Mary Church in Alma on April 27 after the allegations from Youngstown emerged. He had been a pastor at churches in Alma and nearby St. Louis, Mich., in the Saginaw diocese.

Steven Catalano and the other two men, now in their 30s, say they were abused in the Youngstown diocese starting in 1979. Catalano's hometown was not available. Anderson said the 12-year-old boy was abused in 2001, while attending St. Mary in Alma.

In his resignation, Hammer said he had engaged in sexual misconduct as a young priest while assigned to St. Louis Church in Louisville, Ohio, about 35 miles west of Youngstown.

Hammer, who apologized, spent about five years in rehabilitation before he was hired in central Michigan.

The lawsuit says church leaders failed to properly supervise Hammer and conspired to conceal the alleged abuse. Each defendant asked for more than $50 million in damages.

Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor of the Youngstown diocese, said she had not seen the lawsuit. The diocese has a policy against commenting on pending lawsuits, she said, adding no one was available to comment on how the diocese handled accusations against Hammer in the 1980s.

A message seeking comment was left at the Saginaw diocese.

Hammer, who spent a short period of time serving at St. Aloysius in East Liverpool, could not be reached for comment. There is no listing under his name in Alma, Mich.

Anderson said the three legal actions over two days were partly a matter of convenience for him but also reflected a sense of urgency because the individuals involved were either involved in recent ministry or were working with children.

On Wednesday, Anderson filed a lawsuit in Cleveland accusing a priest of molesting five boys in the 1970s and also filed six lawsuits in Toledo against a former priest and the Toledo diocese.

The Cleveland diocese declined comment on the lawsuit against the Rev. Joseph Romansky, who had been assigned in recent years as a nursing home chaplain. He was placed on administrative leave in April.

Romansky could not be reached for comment and the diocese said it didn't know his whereabouts. Calls to a phone listed under the name Joseph Romansky in Cleveland went unanswered Thursday.

In Toledo, the diocese and a former priest, Dennis Gray, 54, were accused of covering up sexual abuse allegations against Gray in the 1980s.

Gray took a leave of absence as dean of students at Toledo Rogers High School on Monday after The (Toledo) Blade detailed accusations by students from his former post at Toledo Central Catholic High School.

The office of Rev. Michael Billian, chancellor of the Toledo diocese, said the diocese hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment. Gray could not be reached for comment.

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