PITTSBURGH – A new sexual abuse lawsuit in Pittsburgh says Reverend Richard Lelonis, a suspended priest, is one of the 19 accused predators whose names were redacted in a grand jury report that alleges decades of protection for pedophiles working for the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
That grand jury report, released earlier this year, alleges there were 301 priests in six dioceses who were allowed by the church to abuse children. The priests whose names were temporarily redacted asked that their names stay that way permanently, and the state Supreme Court recently sided with them over state Attorney General Josh Shapiro's request to make them public.
Several lawsuits have been filed in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, but this Dec. 12 complaint appears to be the first to mention a living priest whose name is not in the grand jury report. KDKA previously reported that Lelonis' name is one of the redacted.
The lawsuit, filed by a North Carolina man, similarly alleges that Lelonis is one of those 19 priests protected by the Supreme Court ruling.
“Eventually, Lelonis was granted Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, in certifying that no record existed in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s statewide central registry listing Lelonis as a perpetrator of an indicated or founded report of child abuse,” according to the lawsuit.
It and another lawsuit filed on the same day name as defendants The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, its Bishop David A. Zubik and Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, all of Pittsburgh.
John Doe 3, a 57-year-old man who now lives in Allegheny County, says he was only 13 years old when he was first sexually assaulted by Reverend Carl Roemele, a priest in Pittsburgh. Roemele’s name appears in the grand jury report as a clergy member accused of child abuse.
Doe 3 was a child living with his parents in Bridgeville in the mid-1970’s, when he first met Roemele attending church services at St. Agatha’s parish. Roemele would also coach the plaintiff on the church basketball team. It was said that these connections, along with stops at his home to socialize with his parents, would lead Doe 3’s family to build a trust with Roemele.
“On multiple occasions, Roemele would take plaintiff to his cabin, located in Donegal, Pennsylvania. At the cabin, Roemele would fondle plaintiff’s genitals multiple times. Roemele would masturbate plaintiff until he ejaculated. Roemele would also do this to other boys at the cabin. In one specific instance, Roemele invited plaintiff’s family to the cabin as well. While plaintiff’s family was in the cabin, Roemele performed oral sex on plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit further recounts more allegations being levied against Roemele by other victims and their families, over a period of time spanning 1967 to 2010. Despite these claims being brought forward, the litigation alleges the Diocese of Pittsburgh only reported them to a law enforcement entity in February 2009, when Diocesan officials met with Roemele and reported the allegations to the Butler County District Attorney’s Office.
“[Roemele] denied all allegations, stating ‘they likely misinterpreted his actions towards them as sexually abusive in nature when they were not meant that way.’ Roemele was required to provide his name and address to the District Attorney where he was residing, to advise them a priest with allegations of sexual abuse was residing in the county,” the suit states.
As for Doe 3, the lawsuit states he has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and intimacy issues as a result of the abuse he suffered.
In the case of John Doe 4, a 58-year-old man who now resides in North Carolina states he was abused by Reverend Lelonis, also working in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, from the ages of 8 to 12, when he resided in Carnegie with his mother.
Lelonis is still alive and was working in active ministry in the Diocese of Pittsburgh until a September suspension.
Doe 4 first met Lelonis when he attended church at St. Luke’s parish and served as an altar boy, in addition to attending St. Luke’s elementary school where Lelonis taught classes.
“Shortly after they met, Lelonis took an immediate interest in plaintiff, and would take him on car rides in Lelonis’s Ford Gran Torino. Lelonis began inviting plaintiff to visit him in the rectory and would invite him to shower in his bathroom. While plaintiff was showering, Lelonis would walk in on plaintiff and began washing plaintiff. Lelonis would also insist on drying plaintiff off after he was done showering,” the suit reads.
“Lelonis would also insist on giving plaintiff massages. During these massages, Lelonis would fondle plaintiff’s genitalia and eventually escalated to Lelonis performing oral sex on plaintiff. Lelonis would also make plaintiff fondle his penis until he reached the point of ejaculation. This abuse occurred consistently over the next four years. The abuse would occur in the rectory, in Lelonis’ parents’ house in Mt. Lebanon, and in a seminary in Zelienople, Pennsylvania on a weekend retreat.”
The suit details that an adult male reported to the Diocese prior to 2002 that Lelonis abused him for years, providing him with alcohol and pornographic magazines and performing oral sex on him.
“Once the victim turned 15 or 16 years old, he told Lelonis that he wanted the sexual activities to stop and threatened ‘to tell on him.’ In response, Lelonis grabbed him by the throat and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. Lelonis also threatened to tell the victim’s parents that he was gay, and that the victim initiated and pursued the sexual contact,” the suit reads.
Doe 4 states he incurred “a loss of faith, a loss of trust in the leadership of the Diocese officials, a loss of trust in authority in general and a loss of trust in men”, in addition to “depression, anxiety, homophobia” and he was compelled to leave Carnegie due to the abuse he suffered.
Despite these and other allegations, plus admitting an “attraction to minors” on the record in a Ministerial Assessment Board hearing, Lelonis was permitted to remain in active ministry, the suit says.
“After the grand jury report was released in August 2018, two more victims came forward to the Diocese with allegations of child sexual abuse against Lelonis. Lelonis was placed on administrative leave. However, the Diocese still has yet to list Lelonis as having a credible allegation made against him, despite the allegations being reported in September 2018," the lawsuit says.
For counts of fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy, the plaintiffs are seeking damages, jointly and severally, in excess of the jurisdictional limits requiring arbitration, plus interest as allowed by law, costs and demand a trial by jury.
The plaintiffs are represented by Alan H. Perer of Swensen & Perer, in Pittsburgh.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas cases GD-18-016524 & GD-18-016525
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com