While an eighth grader at a Roman Catholic school in the 1970s, Alex Collins started an after-school club for neighborhood kids.
The school’s parish priest, the Rev. Joseph Romansky, took the poor inner-city youth to movies and helped them get summer jobs, Collins said. He also bought them beer and cigarettes.
At night, in the church basement, he molested them, Collins said.
Collins, 45, William Harrison, 42, and three anonymous plaintiffs filed suit Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, alleging that Romansky assaulted them from 1975 to 1980.
Romansky was then a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas church in Cleveland. He now serves as chaplain at St. Augustine Manor Nursing Home, but the Diocese of Cleveland placed him on administrative leave in April, pending an investigation of sex abuse allegations.
In 1991, the diocese reached a settlement with families of two children who said Romansky abused them.
“You have to put this in context,” said Tom Mullens, president of Catholic Charities, which runs the nursing home. “This goes back 15 or 17 years ago. At that point in time, there was very clearly no indication of any diagnosis of him as a pedophile.”
In a practice that was common at the time, Romansky underwent psychiatric treatment and was returned to the ministry, Mullens said. He was sent first to Biloxi, Miss., and later to the nursing home.
At the nursing home, “he was around all older people and had no contact with young people,” Mullens said.
Mullens said he does not know where Romansky has gone since he was put on leave.
Collins said that while hanging around with the priest, “you got to drink and smoke and act like a fool. But then it got to the point where if we didn’t do what he said, we’d be blackmailed or something.”
“He just kept us trapped,” Collins said.
Harrison said he blocked the experience from memory until he saw Romansky on television recently.
“I was doing work at my auntie’s house and I saw him on TV and I said, ‘He used to do things to me,'” Harrison said. “A lot of things are coming back to me now and its scary and it’s frustrating.”
Both Harrison and Collins denied that they are seeking financial gain from the lawsuit, but they want the diocese to pay for therapy.
“Hopefully I can get some help for myself,” Harrison said. “I would like to just bring this to a close so any other children won’t be put in the position I was put in.”
Harrison and Collins are represented by Minnesota attorney Jeffrey Anderson and Cleveland lawyer William Crosby, who have together filed hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits against the church.
“This is a priest who molested many, many African-American boys under the cover of a collar,” Anderson said. The attorney added he has interviewed three more adults who say Romansky molested them and he expects to contact more within weeks.
The diocese declined to comment on the suit.