Ex-Geibel student sues priest
A former Geibel Catholic High School student who claims he was molested 20 years ago by a recently suspended priest, the Rev. Gregory F. Premoshis, is seeking more than $525,000 in damages in a federal lawsuit he filed Thursday against the former school president and the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg.
Charles Hartz Jr., 38, a former Connellsville resident who now lives in Michigan, claims in the lawsuit that he was the target of repeated sexual assaults by Premoshis during the early 1980s when he was a teenager and attended Geibel in Connellsville. Premoshis had taught at the high school and until March was its chief administrator.
Hartz said in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that Premoshis would provide him “large amounts of alcohol and then engage in inappropriate sexual conduct.”
He alleges that Premoshis, who also served as a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Connellsville, would frequently take him to restaurants and bars and falsely vouch Hartz was an adult so the teen would be served liquor. This was done “all with the intent of enabling Premoshis to obtain sexual gratification with the unwilling (Hartz),” the lawsuit states.
On March 19, about one month after Hartz initially reported the assaults to diocesan officials, Premoshis was removed as president of the school and announced his retirement.
Last month, Bishop Anthony Bosco affirmed a special five-member diocese review board’s recommendation that Premoshis, who now lives in Mount Pleasant, be barred for life from public ministry.
Neither Hartz nor Premoshis could be reached for comment on the lawsuit Thursday. Hartz is the son of former Connellsville District Justice Charles “Chappy” Hartz.
Angela Burrows, executive director of infomedia services for the diocese, defended the diocese’s action after Hartz made the complaint.
“We dealt with it immediately when the allegation came up. As soon as it could be substantiated, he (Premoshis) was removed,” Burrows said.
She also noted the review board’s action in July permanently barring Premoshis from ever again serving as a priest. Burrows said the diocese was aware of the lawsuit and hired Pittsburgh attorney Carl Eck.
Burrows noted that Bosco ordered an investigation into old complaints of sexual abuse in priests’ files after the January trial of John Geoghan, a former Boston priest accused of abuse by more than 130 people. After a review of the 125 files here, eight cases were identified for further scrutiny.
Also suspended in March by the diocese was the Rev. Robert E. Moslener, who last served in Armstrong County.
Six of the eight cases have been disposed of, including Premoshis’ case. Also in March, the diocese turned over information on the eight cases, which all involve allegations of improper conduct with boys between 1962 and 1982, to Westmoreland District Attorney John Peck.
Peck has not announced the result of his investigation.
In the lawsuit, Hartz said he was 16 years old in September 1980, when the diocese transferred Premoshis from Greensburg Central Catholic High School to Geibel.
“Based on information and belief and comments made by Premoshis and others (Hartz) believes that Premoshis had a history of sexually improper conduct inconsistent with his vows as a priest and his duties as a teacher and a priest prior to being transferred to (Geibel) which was known or should have been known by the Bishop and The Diocese of Greensburg,” states the lawsuit filed by attorney Helen R. Kotler of Pittsburgh.
The lawsuit alleges that it was the practice at the time of the Catholic Church in the United States, “as well as the practice and policy of other bishops in Pennsylvania and in the United States to move priests from one assignment to another or even to another diocese when allegations of abuse were made regarding the priest.”
The late Bishop William Connare, not Bosco, headed the diocese during the period until his retirement in 1987.
“The sexual abuse of the then-minor (Hartz) occurred on many occasions between 1981 and 1982 and in several places, including the rectory where Father Premoshis resided with other priests, and in other cities and states, including Ohio, Virginia, and South Carolina, where Father Premoshis transported (Hartz),” the complaint said.
During the period that the sexual assaults allegedly occurred, Hartz claims that Premoshis ingratiated himself with Hartz’s parents and would often be invited to family meals, “all the while knowing that his activities were detrimental to (Hartz’s) well-being.”
The lawsuit alleges that Premoshis would shower Hartz with gifts, and during the school day the pair would often eat lunch alone together. Hartz also contends that Premoshis often ordered the rectory’s housekeeper to prepare lunches for Hartz.
“Premoshis held himself out to parishioners and lay community as a community-minded, likable and ethical person while covering up his secret sexual misconduct (and) making it difficult for a victim like (Hartz) to come forward with the allegations,” the lawsuit said.
“It is believed that various faculty and administrators at (Geibel) noticed and discussed the often overt, strange, special attention paid by Premoshis to Hartz, but no teacher or administrator questioned him, his parents, or reported the conduct,” court documents state.
During the time of the abuse, Hartz contends that he would often enter Premoshis’ room in the rectory.
In the lawsuit, Hartz said he believes many Geibel staffers and other priests “would know that he stayed all night and could see that Premoshis had given him alcohol, as well as see him provide alcohol to other minor males.”
Throughout his time at Geibel with Premoshis, Hartz claimed that he felt “distraught, confused and disgusted.”
Hartz said the assaults eventually led to psychological distress, “including great shame, guilt, self-blame, isolation from his parents, anxiety, depression and anger.”
He said a psychologist who counsels him stated that the depression, alcoholism and anxiety problems Hartz still experiences are typical reactions to sexual abuse.
Hartz blames the assaults for the eventual breakup of his marriage in February 2000 and a recently broken engagement. In his lawsuit, Hartz claimed he was despondent after the engagement fell through and telephoned Premoshis, “who still offered counseling, but made no mention of his prior sexual misconduct, although he knew or should have known that his misconduct had impaired (Hartz).”
In the lawsuit, Hartz said he decided in February 2002 to report the incidents to the Rev. Roger Statnick, vicar general of the Diocese of Greensburg. He said he also disclosed it to law enforcement authorities in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
“Based on information and belief, the Diocese of Greensburg sought to cover up the identity of a sexual predator in its midst, Premoshis, and never provided his name to authorities of Westmoreland County, nor did they contact authorities in Fayette County to describe the matter, nor did they disclose to the parents of children attending or who attended Geibel Catholic High School of the conduct of Father Premoshis,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit contends that by refusing to divulge the information, the diocese effectively avoided any potential criminal prosecution of Premoshis because the state’s statute of limitations on such activity had expired.
Ironically, the lawsuit was filed the same day that Bosco turned 75 and submitted his official resignation to the pope. All bishops are required by church law to submit resignation letters on their 75th birthdays.
Burrows emphasized that Bosco’s official resignation letter had nothing to do with the lawsuit.
The pope generally takes months to act on resignation letters and name a replacement.
Hartz has demanded a jury trial.
In the ongoing Geoghan case in Boston, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge is reviewing a purported $15 million to $30 million settlement between the church and 86 of Geoghan’s victims.
Hartz’s civil case is the first involving a priest from the Greensburg diocese.
Peirce is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.