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Allegheny couple alleges sexual misconduct by priest

Rich Cholodofsky
| Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010

An Allegheny County woman and her husband have filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, claiming their parish priest took advantage of an emotionally vulnerable woman.

In the suit, Wendy Benaquista, 37, of Plum, accused the diocese of negligence for installing a priest at Mother of Sorrows Church in Murrysville, despite knowledge of past allegations against him for "sexual indiscretions with female congregants."

In the 16-count lawsuit, Benaquista and her husband, Daniel, contend that Monsignor Richard Curci, 64, took advantage of her when she sought marital advice from the church. There are no specific allegations in the lawsuit against Curci detailing previous sexual misconduct.

In a statement e-mailed to the Tribune-Review Friday, spokesman Jerry Zufelt said the diocese was aware of the lawsuit filed in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.

"However, since the diocese has not been served with the complaint, it does not have the specific allegations. The diocese is not able to comment on this litigation at this time," he said.

The lawsuit claims that in 2008 Curci made sexual advances to Wendy Benaquista during confession and counseling sessions.

Several of the meetings occurred in Curci's residence, according to the lawsuit.

The suit described one meeting when Curci allegedly invited Benaquista into his living room and closed the door.

"He then came over to her and hugged her in a prolonged, full-body embrace prior to the start of their discussions," it said.

Curci initiated contact at a second session, the couple allege.

"Before leaving he hugged Wendy in a close full-body embrace, pressed his hands on her back, kissed her on the lips and neck, moved his hand down to the back of her leg directly below her buttocks. This physical embrace lasted for an extended period of time with Curci expressing his wish she could spend the night," the lawsuit said.

The Benaquistas' lawyer, Richard Serbin of Altoona, declined to elaborate on the lawsuit. It names the diocese, Curci, Bishop Lawrence Brandt and Mother of Sorrows Church as defendants.

The suit contends the diocese knew about Benaquista's allegations.

"In September 2008, after receiving complaints about Curci's exploitation of Wendy from seven members of the Mother of Sorrows Women's Bible Study Group, church defendants publicly announced that Curci resigned from (the church) due to health concerns," according to the lawsuit.

The Benaquistas are seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

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