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Diocese of Pittsburgh settles sex abuse case for undisclosed 'five-figure' sum

Matthew Santoni
| Tuesday, March 29, 2016, 5:24 p.m.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh reached an undisclosed “five-figure” out-of-court settlement late last year with an alleged victim of a sexually abusive priest who served in Allegheny County from 1985-88, his attorney announced this week.

Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian said the settlement was reached in October over his client's alleged sexual assault by John Connor, who was a chaplain at Sewickley Valley Hospital and then a priest at St. Alphonsus Church in Pine. His client, now in his 40s, was 12 to 14 years old when the abuse took place between 1985 and 1986 in Connor's car, a Pittsburgh movie theater and on a Bradford Woods basketball court, Garabedian said.

The statute of limitations for criminal charges has expired, Garabedian said, but he is publicizing the civil settlement and others to urge the Catholic Church toward greater transparency.

“My client should be proud of himself for having the courage to report sexual abuse,” said Garabedian, whose work representing victims of abusive priests was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”

“In doing so, my client has empowered himself, other clergy sex-abuse victims and children everywhere,” he said. “It's time to end the secrecy surrounding clergy sexual abuse, and the only way to do that is reporting the known perpetrators.”

According to a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report, Connor was arrested in 1984 for abusing a boy in New Jersey but cut a deal with prosecutors so his record would be expunged if he did not reoffend within a year. After Connor spent time at the church-affiliated Southdown Institute for treating sexual offenders, then-Pittsburgh Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua agreed to transfer him to the Pittsburgh diocese, albeit with reservations. The grand jury report did not mention any accusations of sexual abuse in Pittsburgh, picking up again when Bevilacqua moved to Philadelphia and was again willing to accept Connor there. Bevilacqua died in 2012 amid intense scrutiny of his role in protecting abusive priests.

The Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese of Pittsburgh, confirmed the settlement but declined to reveal the amount. He said Connor, who is no longer a “priest in good standing,” was a chaplain at Sewickley Valley from October 1985 to October 1986, and then an associate pastor at St. Alphonsus until July 1988.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412 391 0927 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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