The Devil's in the Details

Another couple lawsuits hit the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Mar. 24, 2004

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Two more civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests were filed against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last week.

In his filing, 46-year-old Alfred Roberts of North Philadelphia claims to have been molested repeatedly by Father Joseph Gausch while an altar boy at St. Bridget's Parish in East Falls.

Roberts was the only African-American altar boy at St. Bridget's and claims in his lawsuit that the priest used racial intimidation to coerce him.

"Whatever happens between us is okay as long as it stays only between us and God," Roberts claims Gausch told him the first time the priest allegedly cornered him as a 12-year-old boy in St. Bridget's sacristy.

"You know you're the only colored altar boy, and that's a privilege for you and your family," the priest continued. "You don't want to embarrass your family or start any trouble. No one would believe a colored boy talking about a priest anyway."

Fifty-seven-year-old Nicholas Siravo of Northeast Philadelphia says he was abused by two different priests while attending Cardinal Dougherty High School in the early '60s.

Siravo's lawsuit contends that after being abused by Father Charles Siegele, he went to another priest, Rev. Harry Nawn, to disclose the acts, and that Rev. Nawn then molested him.

Six other suits alleging abuse by clergy have been brought against the archdiocese in recent months. They represent the first wave of suits against the archdiocese since the clergy abuse scandal exploded nationwide in 2002. All of the suits allege that known pedophile priests were permitted continued access to children and name the archdiocese as a defendant.

All the priests named in the suits are either dead or out of active ministry.

Attorneys representing the archdiocese will likely argue that the cases be dismissed since the statute of limitations has long expired in each case. Stewart Eisenberg, the attorney representing Roberts and Siravo, argues that the clock should have actually started ticking in 2002, when it first became known that the Catholic Church covered up allegations of abuse.

"It's an issue of delayed discovery," adds Richard Serbin, an attorney representing five of the eight Philly plaintiffs, as well as 50 other individuals claiming clergy abuse in dioceses throughout the state. "These victims did not realize that the church hierarchy was actively involved in protecting these child molesters."

Though never tested in Philly, the arguments of fraudulent concealment and delayed discovery have been successfully employed in other states dealing with abusive clergy.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia says that 44 of the 2,204 diocesan priests that have served in Philly since 1950 have had credible charges of abuse brought against them.

"The vast majority of priests are faithful and upright men whose lives of valued service are very much appreciated," says Catherine Rossi, a spokesperson for the archdiocese. "The Philadelphia Archdiocese now has in place a comprehensive response to abuse of minors by clergy members. We are trying to make our church institutions the safest place for children and young people."

Citing a 22-month-old grand jury investigation into clergy abuse in Philadelphia, the archdiocese refuses to comment specifically on individual cases. They will not say whether any of the new allegations target priests not previously named, and have yet to release a list of the names of abusive priests, as other cities have done.

Additional suits will be announced in the upcoming weeks.

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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:35PM

“I knew Nawn was a weirdo. He looked & acted weird.
Siegle surprises me. He was like an old Bulldog, not a sex perv.
Ya never know.
Jack, Dougherty class of '70.”

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