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Woman Sues Diocese Claiming Then-Teenage Son Was Abused

May 21, 2003 | AP A woman has sued a Roman Catholic diocese and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the nation, claiming her son was plied with drugs and alcohol and abused by three priests while a teenager.

In her lawsuit, filed Monday, the woman claims her son was sexually abused by three priests while he was an altar boy in 1980 and 1981. The son has not filed a lawsuit, but is considering one, the woman's attorney said.

The abuse began when the Rev. Alvin Downey was transferred to St. John the Evangelist Church in Bellefonte in 1980 to fill in for vacationing priests, according to the lawsuit. The boy, who was then 16, was an altar boy at the church.

Downey gave the boy marijuana and alcohol and then fondled him and performed sex acts on him, the woman claims.

The abuse continued until 1981 when the boy stayed at the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, under the guise of meeting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, according to the lawsuit. The teen was sexually abused by Downey and two other priests the Revs. Andrew Campbell and Athanasius Cherry the lawsuit states.

The woman sued the archabbey, the three priests and the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which includes the church where the lawsuit claims the boy was first molested.

The lawsuit is at least the seventh filed this year against the diocese, Bishop Joseph Adamec and his predecessor, Bishop James Hogan. Together, the lawsuits represent the first such actions faced by the diocese since a 1987 case against a now-defrocked priest that resulted in a $1.2 million award.

Kim Metzgar, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent, declined to comment Tuesday, saying neither she nor archabbey officials had seen the lawsuit. Metzgar also said the priests, who are still active, would not comment.

Mary Parks, a spokeswoman for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, also declined comment, saying the diocese had not yet seen the lawsuit.

The most recent lawsuit adopts a strategy similar to others against the diocese, claiming church officials knew about abuse allegations against priests but did too little to prevent future abuse.

The diocese and archabbey "prevented parents, such as the plaintiff, from questioning and learning of the abuse to prevent further harm to her minor son or take action for the harm done," the lawsuit states.

In the lawsuit, the woman claims her health has declined and she is in counseling; her son has since been hospitalized.

According to the lawsuit, the woman learned of her son's alleged abuse last year after questioning him when allegations surfaced against another priest at St. John's church.

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