Lawsuit accuses Harrisburg diocese, bishops of covering up abuse


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A lawsuit filed in Dauphin County court alleges the Harrisburg diocese and two bishops were involved in conspiracy, fraud and constructive fraud to cover up child sexual abuse by clergy.

The lawsuit isn’t based on actual abuse, but an alleged coverup by the diocese and bishops Kevin Roades and Ronald Gainer.

“I am on a mission to speak out to anyone who will listen that this cycle must end,” Donald Asbee said.

Asbee, now 67, says he was raped by Father Raymond Daugherty and Father Walter Sempko over the course of over three years, beginning when he was 9 years old. He says Daugherty gave him a medal as a sign to his successor, Sempko, that he was already “broken in.”

“It was well orchestrated, as though I was receiving some sort of sacrament,” Asbee said.

Asbee was offered $176,875 under the diocese’s compensation fund but but rejected it.

“It’s really putting victims in this uncomfortable position, if you will. Do you go behind door number 1, which is a guarantee, or do you wait for this opportunity to go to court?” Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said.

Asbee’s lawyer, Richard Serbin, says his client suffered embarrassment, humiliation, and shame and spent thousands of dollars on counseling and psychological care.

“For Don, it’s not about money,” Serbin said. “It’s about exposing the systemic problem, the wrongdoing that occurred. He’s here to protect other children.”

This lawsuit is only possible because of Serbin’s other client, Renee Rice. Her case against the Altoona-Johnstown diocese was reinstated June 11 by Pennsylvania Superior Court on the basis of the same conspiracy and fraud allegations.

“It is the most hope I’ve had regarding the statute of limitations in the 32 years I’ve been doing this type of work,” Serbin said.

Serbin says the ruling means that a jury will decide, not a judge. He says the diocese has asked for a hearing before the entire Superior Court.

Storm sees these lawsuits as a big step forward.

“They need to have time to heal. They need to have time to reveal the details in the case,” Storm said. “And in some instances, the only way they can have that reveal is by having a mechanism of the court require that reveal.”

The Harrisburg diocese released a statement in response to Asbee’s lawsuit:

Bishop Ronald Gainer said, “In my own name, and in the name of the Diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I continue to express our profound sorrow and apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse, the Catholic faithful and the general public for the abuses that took place and for those Church officials who failed to protect children.” 

Diocesan Spokesperson Mike Barley added, “As our attorneys have not yet reviewed the complaint in question, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time. To be clear, the actions alleged in this complaint took place long before Bishop Gainer’s tenure in Harrisburg. Bishop Gainer has been open and transparent with regard to priest-child sexual abuse and had no knowledge of the priests mentioned in this lawsuit’s actions until research was conducted during the grand jury process.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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