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Lawsuit accuses former priest of abuse in Monroeville parish

Dillon Carr
| Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, 7:42 p.m.

A lawsuit filed Monday accuses the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh of covering up a priest’s sexual abuse of a teenage boy in a Monroeville parish.

The complaint filed by Downtown Pittsburgh attorney George Kontos on behalf of Richard Bieranowski of Connellsville said diocesan officials knew of former priest William Yockey’s “sexual interest in male children” and “repeatedly failed to take any action to investigate, discipline or report Yockey as a sexual predator.”

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

Diocesan spokesman the Rev. Nick Vascov said the diocese is reviewing the case and declined to comment on the litigation.

Yockey, 66, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Yockey served at Monroeville’s St. Bernadette parish from October 1978 to June 1983. It was his second of 10 assignments before he was withdrawn from active ministry in 1991. He was ordained in 1977.

According to the complaint filed Monday, Bieranowski, now 53, met Yockey in 1981 while participating in the church’s youth group. In addition to his priestly duties, Yockey also served as a youth counselor at the church.

The complaint alleges that Yockey sexually abused Biernowski on numerous occasions from 1981 to 1982, starting when Bieranowski was 15 or 16.

Bieranowski reported the abuse to his parents and a member of the church in 1985, the complaint said.

The complaint said Bieranowski suffered from depression, anxiety, emotional distress, loss of sleep and nightmares, among other problems.

The lawsuit recommends charges of fraud, conspiracy and constructive fraud against the Pittsburgh diocese, Zubik and Wuerl.

Yockey was named in a state grand jury report released in August alleging decades of abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses that affected more than 1,000 children. The report said allegations against Yockey began to surface in 1991.

The diocese put Yockey on administrative leave in May 1991 from his assignment as chaplain of the Allegheny County Jail, a post he started October 1987, after Yockey admitted to allegations involving the 16 year-old boy.

In April 2006, Yockey applied for a Veterans Administration position. The prospective employer sent out a questionnaire to the diocese. The diocese’s response was “devoid of any information regarding the admitted sexual abuse,” Kontos said.

The grand jury report said the diocese made payments totaling nearly $55,000 to children of Yockey’s alleged victims for their Catholic education from 2012 to 2017. The money came out of various diocesan funds, including a “Catholic Charities Fund.”

More victims came forward in 2009 and 2013, but the grand jury report said the diocese did not report any allegations of Yockey’s sexual abuse to the district attorney until 2014. No criminal charges were ever filed against him.

Yockey was terminated from his job at Community Counseling Center in Ashtabula, Ohio, in October after he was identified as a former priest listed in the grand jury report. The counseling center provides services to adults and children.

He is licensed in Pennsylvania and Ohio as a clinical social worker and currently operates his own practice out of his Crawford County home in Linesville, according to Health Care for People, a website that provides information about health care professionals.

The website, which gets information about health care providers from federal agency data, does not include information about sexual abuse allegations against Yockey.

Kontos said he intends to file at least seven more complaints that include allegations against priests in the Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Armstrong dioceses. He said he is investigating more than a dozen additional claims.

Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations prohibits people from filing civil claims related to childhood abuse after they turn 30 and criminal claims after 50. Lawsuits filed since the state grand jury report’s release have argued that diocesan cover-ups of abuse should allow the statute to be extended because evidence was fraudulently concealed.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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