‘A hierarchy did this to us’: sisters file lawsuits against Harrisburg, Newark dioceses

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Members of a Dauphin County family announced a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Harrisburg Monday.

Several of the Fortney sisters said they were sexually abused by Augustine Giella. He was a priest in the Newark Archdiocese but was later transferred to Harrisburg where he met the Fortney sisters. He died in 1993.

Patty and Lara Fortney filed in New Jersey, they said, after the enactment of a new law that extends the window for victims to sue. The sisters said they were abused in both Pennsylvania and on trips to Giella’s New Jersey summer home in the 1980’s.

The two allege the Newark Archdiocese had reports in the ’60s that Giella abused a girl but didn’t take action to stop him. Instead, Giella was transferred to Harrisburg where the abuse continued.

New Jersey recently opened a window allowing victims more time to sue, which gave the Fortney sisters a chance to solve what they call a large missing piece of their collective past.

That same window that opened up in New Jersey allowing the Fortneys to sue, is also making its way through Pennsylvania’s legislature but needs to pass again next session before it reaches voters.

The Archdiocese of Newark said in a statement:

“The Archdiocese of Newark will continue to cooperate and work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations made and bring closure to victims.  The Archdiocese has already made efforts to bring about said resolution and closure, joining with the other dioceses in New Jersey to establish the Independent Victims Compensation Program (IVCP) to offer compensation to eligible survivors who were sexually abused by clergy of the Church while minors. While this program has been a viable option for some victims to achieve a level of closure, it always was understood that some may seek resolution through other avenues.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg said in a statement:

“Our attorneys have not received or reviewed this complaint and as such, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time. Bishop Gainer has personally apologized to the Fortney family, and to all survivors of clergy abuse, for the abuse they suffered. The Fortney family, as well as all survivors of child abuse, have access to professional therapy and counseling services, at no cost to them, through the Diocese. The Diocese of Harrisburg will continue to do all we can to support survivors of child sexual abuse and to ensure all youth in our care are safe.”

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