Press Conference - Harrisburg, PA
Childhood Sex Abuse Survivor Sues Harrisburg Diocese and Bishops for Concealing Knowledge of Pedophile Priests
Richard M. Serbin, Chair of the JJS Sexual Abuse Division, speaks of a new lawsuit that he has filed on behalf of Don Asbee, who was repeatedly raped as a child by two priests when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Milton, PA. The suit follows a landmark ruling by the PA Superior Court earlier this month, which allows survivors, who have previously been barred from seeking justice through statute of limitations laws, to file on the grounds of conspiracy and fraud.
This latest lawsuit names the Harrisburg Roman Catholic Diocese, its current Bishop, and a former Bishop alleging conspiracy and fraud with other Bishops, as well as the Vatican for covering up the child sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.
(Harrisburg, PA, July 23, 2019) – A man who states he was repeatedly raped by two priests when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Milton, PA, has filed a lawsuit against the Harrisburg Roman Catholic Diocese, its current Bishop, and a former Bishop alleging a conspiracy and fraud with other Bishops and the Vatican to cover up the child sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.
It is believed to be the first such lawsuit filed in the wake of a June 11th opinion by the Pennsylvania Superior Court that makes it possible, under certain circumstances, for sexual assault victims to file lawsuits outside the statute of limitations, said Richard M. Serbin, lead attorney for the plaintiff.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, July 22, in the Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, Donald B. Asbee, 67, alleges repeated assaults and rape by Fathers Raymond Dougherty and Walter Sempko starting when he was nine years old and continuing for more than three years.
“Finally, child survivors of the most heinous kinds of sexual abuse by pedophile priests can fully expose the lengths church leaders went to cover up these crimes. They can look to juries to decide what is fair compensation for the loss of their childhoods and the devastating consequences of being violated by a member of the cloth they were taught to trust and revere,” Serbin said.
“Justice is now possible for some survivors who have suffered so much for so long” he added.
Serbin heads the Sex Abuse Division of Janet, Janet & Suggs, a national firm that represents survivors of sexual abuse against perpetrators and the institutions that enable them. Andrew Janet and Natalie D’Antonio, attorneys with Janet, Janet & Suggs’ sexual abuse division, are co-counsel with attorney Serbin.
According to the suit, Father Dougherty began assaulting Asbee when he was in the fourth grade, beginning with fondling and continuing until he was laying the child across a desk and sodomizing him. “At times Donald’s pain was so great he went in and out of consciousness,” the complaint states.
When Dougherty was transferred to another parish, his replacement, Father Sempko, continued the brutal assaults, according to the suit.
“As a result of information recently learned from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, Donald now believes that the special medallion given to him by Dougherty was notice to Sempko, his parish successor, that he was the ideal target for abuse,” the suit states. Both priests are now deceased, according to the suit.
Asbee decided to seek legal recourse after reading in the grand jury report about the use of medallions to “mark” children and learning about the extent the church went to hide the abuse and protect criminal priests, according to Serbin.
Asbee earlier turned down an offer by the Harrisburg Compensation Fund for $176,875, an amount Serbin called “ridiculously low, given Don’s decades of physical, psychological, and financial suffering.”
The Vatican and all previous Harrisburg diocese bishops are included as unnamed defendants for conspiring to cover up their knowledge of child predator priests, failing to take steps to prevent the assaults, and moving pedophile priests to other assignments after becoming aware of their criminal actions, Serbin said.
“Children were knowingly placed in harms way because of their concerns about the reputation of the church,” Serbin said.
The Superior Court ruled in Rice v. Diocese of Altoona, a case filed by Serbin, that under certain factual situations child sexual abuse lawsuits could be filed past statute of limitation time limits. Both the Rice case and the Asbee case allege conspiracy, fraud and constructive fraud, raising factual questions the court held must be decided by a jury, not a judge, Serbin said.
New York, New Jersey and other states recently passed laws granting a window of opportunity for all child sexual assault victims to file civil suits even when statute of limitations have expired, Serbin noted.
“While the Catholic Church publicly maintains that it is concerned about sexual abuse survivors and that the survivors deserve justice, Pennsylvania dioceses have spent millions on lobbyists to enlist legislators to block legislation that would enable victims to seek redress through the courts,” Serbin said.
The suit was filed as Asbee v. Diocese of Harrisburg, et al, No. 2019-CV-5539-CV.
Janet, Janet & Suggs represented victim number six in his sexual abuse claim against Penn State University, obtained a record sexual abuse settlement on behalf of 8,000 women against Johns Hopkins Hospital, and is currently serving as one of several liaison law firms for hundreds of individual lawsuits on behalf of sexual abuse survivors who were student patients of a University of Southern California OB/GYN employed by the University to treat women at its health center.