‘DO THE RIGHT THING’
‘This Is About Transparency’: Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against 8 Pennsylvania Catholic Dioceses
A month after Pennsylvania’s harrowing grand-jury report, a class-action lawsuit is demanding that the state’s dioceses release all records pertaining to alleged clergy abuse.
A clergy abuse survivor and the mom of a Catholic school student have a message for Pennsylvania dioceses: It’s time for transparency.
In a class-action lawsuit filed Monday against all eight dioceses in the state, Ryan O’Connor, who says he was abused by a priest as a child, and Kristen Hancock, whose children attend Catholic school, are demanding the release of all records pertaining to alleged clergy abuse in the last seven decades.
They claim that Pennsylvania’s four grand-jury investigations over the last decade indicate that church leaders have failed to comply with a state law that demands they report sexual abuse.
“This is not about money, this is about transparency,” O’Connor told The Daily Beast. “I believe there is still good men in church, who want to do the right thing. We are doing nothing more than asking of them what is asked of us as Catholics.”
O’Connor, a 46-year-old father of three, says he was sexually abused by his parish priest from the age of 10 to 12. He “also suffered abuse at the hands of a family friend when he was a child,” the complaint states.
With two children enrolled in Catholic school, O’Connor, who is still a practicing Catholic, hopes this lawsuit will ultimately give parents and survivors the information they need to heal and move forward.
“The healing process for survivors is excruciating,” O’Connor said in a press release. “We are made to feel as though we must choose between our faith and our recovery. Key to this healing process knows that my own children aren’t in danger. I’m speaking out for all survivors and all parents who want to know why this church believes they are above the law. We’re here to tell them that they are not.”
Hanrock “is an active member” at her son’s school, St. Bernard’s Catholic School, serving as “homeroom mother...as well as a reader at Mass on Sundays,” the lawsuit states.
The pair, along with attorney Benjamin Sweet, hope to hold the church accountable for allegedly not complying with state law in reporting child sexual abusers.
“This lawsuit is brought because Defendants cannot be trusted to act on their own,” the complaint states. “Though decades of choosing to defend their predator clergy members over the children of Pennsylvania, Defendants have enabled untold abuse and suffering of children, family members and others and have also created a clear a present dangers that must be abated to protect the public.”
“The diocese [of Altoona–Johnstown] does not comment on pending litigation,” a spokesperson for the diocese told The Daily Beast. A spokesperson for the Diocese of Pittsburgh said it “has not been served with papers regarding this lawsuit at this time.”
The other six dioceses—Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia—did not immediately respond to comment.
Monday’s complaint is the latest fallout from a long-awaited grand-jury report released in August, which accused over 300 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children across the state over seven decades.
The grand-jury report sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church, spurring 11 states to conduct their own investigations.
Despite the national outcry, the lawsuit states, only three percent of the priests named in the report are listed in Pennsylvania’s database of convicted or guilty sexual offenders.
“Of the 301 priests identified in the [grand jury] report, 10 or less appear in the Pennsylvania Megan’s law database,” the complaint states. “Thus...the overwhelming majority of these sexual offender priests would continue to enjoy anonymity as sexual predators.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of child sex-abuse survivors, also claims that in order to ensure accountability, all Pennsylvania dioceses must release the redacted names in the grand-jury report, as well as internal documents kept by the church since 1948.
Sweet said the church needs this push after 70 years of “saving its own skin” and covering up “serial child rape.”
“What we are seeking in this lawsuit is not money or damages. We are seeking the release of information,” Sweet told The Daily Beast. “This lawsuit is about transparency. Period.”