Former Pittsburgh Bishop Bevilacqua, others accused of abuse in new lawsuits
One of two civil lawsuits filed Friday against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh accuses former Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua of sexually assaulting a young girl more than three decades ago.
That lawsuit, filed on behalf of a 45-year-old woman now living in San Diego, alleged that Bevilacqua and two other clergy, the Revs. Lawrence O’Connell and Edward Huff, assaulted her between 1978 and 1985 when she was between the ages of 5 and 13.
Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer filed the lawsuit, along with a second lawsuit, against the diocese, Bishop David Zubik and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as Pittsburgh diocese’s bishop before Zubik.
Bevilacqua served as Pittsburgh’s bishop from 1983 and 1987. He became archbishop of Philadelphia in 1988, was elevated to cardinal in 1991 and retired in 2003. He died in 2012 at 87. He was accused in a 2011 grand jury report of transferring problem priests out of Philadelphia parishes to new ones without warning anyone of prior sexual abuse complaints.
The alleged victim in the first lawsuit and her family met O’Connell at St. Gabriel’s Church and St. Gabriel’s Sorrowful Mother School in Whitehall, where he was a pastor from 1952 to 1983, according to the lawsuit. She alleged that O’Connell began to fondle her through her school uniform when she was between 5 and 7.
The alleged abuse occurred in the living quarters or the rectory and happened more than six times over two years, the lawsuit said.
O’Connell and a nun allegedly told the girl that “if she was to tell anybody what happened, she would go down the drain in the bathtub,” according to the lawsuit.
Huff became the attending priest at the school in June 1983, and the alleged victim said he was always “touchy-feely” with her and would invited her into the rectory to see the parish dog, according to the lawsuit. There, she alleged, he would put his hands under her uniform.
Huff allegedly told the victim that if she told her parents, he would forbid her from attending her Confirmation and Mass.
The lawsuit said Bevilacqua once visited St. Gabriel’s, where he took the alleged victim behind a partition in the lunchroom and groped her chest.
The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 52-year-old man now living in Rhode Island who said the Rev. William O’Malley III sexually abused him in the late 1970s when he was 11 or 12.
O’Malley allegedly invited the boy to spend the night at the rectory and gave him candy and beer, according to the lawsuit. The alleged victim said O’Malley invited him to sleep in his bed while he took the couch.
The lawsuit alleged that O’Malley returned to the bedroom, took off the victim’s shorts and fondled him. The alleged victim waited for O’Malley to fall asleep and then “quickly got out of bed, grabbed his clothes and left,” according to the lawsuit.
Around the same time, O’Malley allegedly showed the alleged victim photos of three other boys around the same age in their underwear and asked if he could take similar photographs, according to the lawsuit. After that, the lawsuit said the boy “did his best to entirely avoid O’Malley at the church.”
Each of the lawsuits alleges fraud and conspiracy and seeks a jury trial. They also allege that the diocese, Wuerl and Zubik were aware of the predatory interests of O’Malley, Huff, O’Connell and Bevilacqua.
Quoting the grand jury report, the lawsuits said that evidence showed “that diocesan administrators, including the bishops, had knowledge of this conduct yet regularly placed the priests in ministry after the diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.