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Men Sue Roman Catholic Diocese, Alleging Abuse

Mar 4, 2003 | NEPA News

Two men who say they were sexually abused years ago by priests and previously told church officials about the allegations sued a Roman Catholic diocese on Tuesday.

In the two lawsuits, the men said they were abused by two priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese while they were preteens or teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the civil lawsuits, the abuse started when the men, Paul Claar, 37, of Altoona, and Tony Coray, 39, of State College were 12 years old and lasted for at least two years.

The lawsuits are the second against the diocese in a month and the second since a now defrocked priest was accused in 1987. They also name Bishop Joseph Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan, who left in 1987, as defendants, but not the two priests who allegedly committed the abuse, the Revs. Bernard Grattan and Robert Kelly.

Last month, five men sued the diocese, which is located about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh. The five claim they were molested by former priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the diocese, Sister Mary Parks, said the latest allegations had been handled by the diocese. Parks also said the church paid for therapy for Claar and Coray.

"These cases are not new to us. We have been aware of these allegations for some time," Parks said.

Grattan was removed from ministerial duties and underwent therapy, Parks said. He was reassigned as a chaplain at a hospital and stopped functioning publicly as a priest a year ago, Parks said. Parks said she believed he went on medical leave. A telephone number for him could not be located.

Kelly was removed from Our Lady of Victory Church in State College and given administrative duties during a church review. Church officials said they found nothing to prove Coray's allegations, Parks said.

Kelly, who has denied the allegations, was named pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Philipsburg in 1999. He did not return a phone call for comment left at his church on Tuesday.

In his lawsuit, Claar claims he was molested by Grattan when he was an altar boy at St. Patrick's Church in Newry from 1979 to 1983.

Claar said the sexual abuse took place in the rectory at the church, the church's school grounds and in Grattan's car. He also said Grattan gave him alcohol and asked Claar to sleep with him.

Coray said he was sexually abused by Kelley while an altar boy at Our Lady of Victory Church in State College from 1975 to 1977. Coray said Kelly fondled him in the church's rectory and at a movie theater.

Richard Serbin, who is representing all seven men, said the lawsuits were prompted by Adamec's statements in March 2002 that he had suspended priests from the ministry more than a decade ago.

Serbin has said the statement suggested that the diocese knew or should have known about the priests' alleged actions and did too little to prevent them.

In the lawsuits, Kelly and Grattan are mentioned by name among nine other current or former priests that Serbin says the diocese knew had engaged in potential or actual sexual misconduct with children. Neither Kelly nor Grattan are named as defendants since the statute of limitations has expired, Serbin said.

Coray and Claar said they had told church officials, including Adamec, about the abuse and felt little had happened. Coray accused Kelly in 1993 and Claar accused Grattan in 1994.

"In my darkest moments, I used to even feel responsible for what happened," Coray said. "But over the past 10 years, I have come to realize that my feelings of betrayal and shame and guilt are just expressions of the evil that forced itself on me."

The men are seeking a jury trial and damages of more than $25,000 in each of the cases. They are also asking for punitive damages.

The lawsuits come almost a decade after the diocese was ordered to pay $519,000 to a man who said he was molested by the Rev. Francis Luddy. After years of appeals, the diocese in 2001 paid $1.2 million in interest and delayed damages to Michael Hutchison Jr.

The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on more than $1 million in punitive damages.

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