Lawsuit accuses Harrisburg diocese of covering up sexual abuse by teacher

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A new lawsuit accuses the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and its bishops of covering up child sexual abuse by a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Harrisburg.

Attorney Richard Serbin represents a Harrisburg man who claims that when he was a child, the teacher provided him and his classmates with drugs and alcohol then sexually assaulted and raped him.

Church officials apparently never reported the teacher to police, parishioners, or other school districts. As a result, the teacher was able to get a substitute teaching position in Harrisburg after the diocese chose not to rehire him, Serbin said.

Serbin said the diocese’s compensation fund for people sexually abused by clergy had severe limitations that excluded victims of teachers and other diocesan employees.

He said his client was ineligible to even make a claim and Bishop Ronald Gainer did not agree to a personal meeting, so he had no choice but to file a lawsuit.

In a statement, the diocese said its attorneys have not received or reviewed the complaint, but added that the teacher in question was reported to law enforcement in 1993 after the only known allegation against him was first reported to the diocese.

The teacher was reported again to law enforcement in late 2018 after Serbin wrote the diocese to repeat the same allegation from 1993.

“Based on what limited records exist, it appears this teacher only taught at St. Francis of Assisi for some part of one school year in 1975; the diocese is not aware of any contemporaneous allegations of abuse against this former teacher from the 1975 timeframe,” the statement reads.

“Finally, Bishop Gainer has met with many survivors and survivors have access to resources to pay for professional therapy and counseling through the Diocese. As it concerns the clients of Mr. Serbin in particular, all have been invited to participate in this Diocesan-funded counseling.”

The lawsuit will be filed in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

Serbin will announce details of the legal action during a news conference Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the State Capitol. Stay with ABC27 News on-air and online for the latest.

Read the full statement that the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese sent to ABC27 News in response to the lawsuit. This statement was sent on 10/9/19. It reads:

“Our attorneys have not received or reviewed the specific complaint. However, we can confirm the teacher in question was reported to law enforcement in 1993 after the only known allegation against him was first reported to the Diocese. The former teacher was reported again to law enforcement in late 2018, after attorney Richard Serbin wrote the Diocese to repeat the same allegation from 1993. Based on what limited records exist, it appears this teacher only taught at St. Francis of Assisi for some part of one school year in 1975; the Diocese is not aware of any contemporaneous allegations of abuse against this former teacher from the 1975 timeframe. Finally, Bishop Gainer has met with many survivors and survivors have access to resources to pay for professional therapy and counseling through the Diocese. As it concerns the clients of Mr. Serbin in particular, all have been invited to participate in this Diocesan-funded counseling.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg

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