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14 new lawsuits against Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese in sex-abuse scandal

Megan Guza
| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, 2:30 p.m.
FILE - This Dec. 1, 2012 file photo shows a silhouette of a crucifix and a stained glass window inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans. As U.S. Catholic bishops gather for an important national assembly, the clergy sex abuse crisis dominates their agenda. But it's only one of several daunting challenges facing the nation's largest religious denomination. While federal and state law enforcement agencies widen their investigations of abuse, the church finds itself with ever fewer priests and nuns in service. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - This Dec. 1, 2012 file photo shows a silhouette of a crucifix and a stained glass window inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans. As U.S. Catholic bishops gather for an important national assembly, the clergy sex abuse crisis dominates their agenda. But it's only one of several daunting challenges facing the nation's largest religious denomination. While federal and state law enforcement agencies widen their investigations of abuse, the church finds itself with ever fewer priests and nuns in service. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

An attorney on Thursday filed 14 new lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh alleging sexual abuse by priests, including many who already had accusations leveled against them, and a subsequent cover-up by diocesan officials.

Downtown Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer filed the lawsuits on top of seven others he previously filed on behalf of alleged victims since a state grand jury released an explosive report detailing decades of abuse within six Pennsylvania dioceses that affected more than 1,000 children.

The Pittsburgh diocese, Bishop David Zubik and his predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, are named as defendants.

Seven of the accused priests were named in the August report, Perer said.

The statute of limitations has passed for civil lawsuits over the abuse, but the lawsuits challenge that “on the basis that the evidence was fraudulently concealed,” Perer said.

The diocese did not return a request for comment.

The priests who were not named in the grand jury report are the Revs. George Leech, John Unger and Peter Pilarski, all of whom are deceased.

“We just think it is wrong for the church to try to hide behind the statute of limitations where they hid the evidence, and they really should try to make it right for these individuals who suffered abuse,” Perer said.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a 70-year-old Aurora, Colo., man alleged he was sexually abused by Leech between 1960 and 1962 when he attended St. Bartholomew’s Catholic School in Penn Hills, according to the lawsuit.

The man alleged that Leech would show up at a neighborhood ice skating rink and, on 10 to 12 occasions, he grabbed the victim’s genitals and kissed him on the forehead, according to the lawsuit.

A 59-year-old Harmar man alleged Unger sexually abused him while he attended Sacred Heart Elementary in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to the lawsuit.

The man alleged that Unger called him out of class under the guise of cleaning erasers, led him through a tunnel into the church basement and sodomized him, according to the lawsuit. He alleged similar abuse happened two other times, and Unger allegedly told the man that “Jesus would harm his family if he told anyone,” according to the lawsuit.

A 67-year-old Gibsonia man alleged that Pilarski abused him when he was 15 and attending Resurrection Church in West Mifflin, according to the lawsuit.

The man alleged that Pilarski would take him to sporting events, dinner and on overnight trips to a cabin near a lake, according to the lawsuit. The suit further alleges that Pilarski “would insist on bathing with the plaintiff in the river while both were nude.”

The lawsuits draw heavily from the grand jury report, including allegations that the diocese intentionally concealed abuse allegations against priests and relocated the priests rather than immediately expelling them from the church.

Church leaders across the state announced last week they would establish victims’ compensation funds to be underwritten by the diocese or archdiocese.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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