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Allegheny

2 new lawsuits target Diocese of Pittsburgh, allege sexual abuse

Megan Guza
| Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, 5:30 p.m.
Bishop David Zubik speaks during a press conference at the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Downtown on Aug. 14, 2018.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Bishop David Zubik speaks during a press conference at the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Downtown on Aug. 14, 2018.

New lawsuits were filed Friday against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, claiming sexual abuse by two priests and a cover-up by diocese officials.

One suit claims a priest took a student on a trip to Super Bowl X in Florida in 1976 with two other children. The boy called it “a week of hell,” according to the lawsuit.

The other suit claims a priest targeted a boy who played from 1978 to 1980 on the basketball team the priest coached at Nativity Our Lord on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

The lawsuits, both filed by attorney George Kontos on behalf of two men, name the Revs. Raymond Rhoden and Thomas O’Donnell, Bishop David Zubik, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and the diocese as defendants.

The Pittsburgh diocese could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rhoden and O‘Donnell both were named in the scathing grand jury report accusing the Catholic church of covering up decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of priests across the state.

O’Donnell was ordained in 1960 and assigned to 11 local parishes over the next 50 years. His name appeared often in the 900-page grand jury report released in August.

Dozens of families made complaints about O’Donnell over the decades, according to the grand jury report, and he eventually was ordered by the diocese not to be around children.

Nevertheless, in January 2014, the grand jury report states, he received a letter of good standing from the diocese that said no accusations of misconduct had ever been made against him.

The lawsuit alleges that O’Donnell abused the boy, now 56, from 1975 to 1976 while he was a student at Annunciation Catholic School, now known as Northside Catholic School. O’Donnell developed a pattern of watching the alleged victim play basketball near the rectory and inviting him inside for water and, later, to the basement to roll coins from the church donation box, according to the lawsuit.

O’Donnell would offer the alleged victim wine and started to sexually assault him two times a week, according to the lawsuit. The alleged abuse culminated with a trip to the Super Bowl, according to the lawsuit.

Rhoden was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing an altar boy who also was player on the basketball team Rhoden coached. The boy was about 10 when the abuse began. He alleged that Rhoden would pull him out of class under the guise of counseling him and then sexually assault the child in his vehicle and in church offices.

Rhoden was accused in 2002 of sexually abusing a child between 1976 and 1977, according to the grand jury report. The report alleges Wuerl specifically was aware of the accusation and allowed Rhoden to remain in retirement and collect benefits.

Rhoden allegedly admitted to the sexual abuse.

Both lawsuits draw heavily from the grand jury report, and both demand jury trials.

The diocese in Pittsburgh plans to open a victim compensation fund this month, and dioceses across the state announced their own funds late last year in the wake of the grand jury report. Dioceses began establishing the funds after state lawmakers failed to pass statute of limitation reforms that would allow victims to bring old claims of abuse against the church.

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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