Class Action Filed Against Archdiocese

Bolstered by a Philadelphia grand jury report released this past fall, a proposed class of local alleged priest sex abuse victims are seeing if the Eastern District will give them what Pennsylvania's appellate judges have not: a day in court.

A large number of Pennsylvania plaintiffs who sued their archdioceses in state courts have consistently lost statute-of-limitations battles before the Superior Court, and the state Supreme Court has declined to reconsider.

Stewart Eisenberg of Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck, who represents the plaintiffs in Magnum v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, acknowledges that his clients will face a tough battle in federal court over the statute of limitations issue.

When the Philadelphia grand jury report was released, District Attorney Lynne Abraham suggested that the General Assembley consider lengthening the statutes of limitations for various offenses allegedly at play in the majority of priest sex abuse cases.

But those changes haven't come yet, not to mention the potential fight over retroactive applicability.

"I would hope that whoever is assigned this case would take a different look at it than the Superior Court did," Eisenberg said.

He noted that a number of common pleas judges in counties across the state had found in favor of plaintiffs whose actions were later deemed untimely brought.

But in addition to the claims already raised before the state courts, such as fraudulent concealment, the Magnum plaintiffs are asserting that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has violated RICO and civil conspiracy laws.

The Philadelphia's grand jury report forms the basis for many of the allegations contained in the Magnum complaint.

Eisenberg said he's personally never moved to introduce a grand jury report into evidence, but hopes that it will be viewed as would an investigative report from, for example, a local police department or the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The archdiocese's defense counsel, C. Clark Hodgson Jr. of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, declined to comment.

–Asher Hawkins, Staff Reporter

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One Comment on “Class Action Filed Against Archdiocese”

  1. Michael Skiendzielewski Says:

    January 1, 2006

    Mr. William Sasso
    Member
    Board of Trustees
    LaSalle University
    1900 W. Olney Ave.
    Philadelphia, PA

    Mr. William Sasso
    Chairman
    Stradley and Ronon
    Philadelphia Office
    2600 One Commerce Square
    Philadelphia, PA 19103

    Re: Legal Representation-Archdiocese of Philadelphia
    Pedophilia/Sexual Abuse – Grand Jury Report

    Dear Mr. Sasso:

    As counsel to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia during the grand jury proceedings, I am deeply saddened by all of the evidence, documents, statements, etc. that have been made public in the grand jury report regarding sexual abuse by various diocesan priests. In addition, I also call your attention to this paragraph on your website:

    “Attesting to Stradley Ronon’s strength in this area, we have long served as general counsel to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

    I find this particularly disturbing that you and other members of your law firm have provided legal representation and advice to the executives in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia over the many years of these documented claims of sexual abuse and pedophilia.

    I have always said that those in positions of the greatest authority (Krol, Bevilacqua) hold the greatest responsibility (and guilt) since each of our local church leaders have a responsibility to the Catholics in all of the many parishes throughout the region.

    The priest offenders have committed such atrocious and unspeakable acts and it was the Cardinal’s responsibility to do what was right to protect and safeguard the youngest of our Catholic parishioners. This is truly sad and evil that they would seek to safeguard their reputation and that of the archdiocese at the expense of the innocence of our young elementary and high school Catholic students.

    But, of course, I am a Philadelphian since birth and we know the hypocrisy, deceit and obfuscation goes far beyond the offices of 222 N. 17th St. and the castle on Cardinal Ave. The cover-up over the years involved a great number of individuals in positions of power and influence and certainly involved those in the legal profession.

    Mr. Sasso, I retired as a Philadelphia Police Captain a number of years ago and anyone who has lived and/or worked in this city for any length of time knows that corruption of this magnitude (as evidence in the sex abuse scandal) needs the assistance of the legal profession in order to cover (and seal) the tracks of such pedophilia.

    Were you counsel to the former Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua during their tenure as Archbishops of Philadelphia? If you were not, which law firms worked for the Archdiocese in advising them in their course of action as the stream of sexual allegations poured into the Archdiocesan offices? What is the moral, ethical and professional responsibility of the Archdiocesan attorneys when they have direct, first-hand knowledge of evidence of criminal conduct being committed by individuals in the parishes and high schools? Do Archdiocesan attorneys have a responsibility under the Disciplinary Code of Conduct to report such criminal activity to the local law enforcement authorities? Did, in fact, any of the attorneys working for the Cardinals Krol and Bevilacqua do so? As a civil attorney, did Cardinal Bevilacqua have a professional responsibility to report such criminal conduct and behavior?

    Wouldn’t it be nice for the victims of such life and spirit destroying sexual abuse to ask the Archdiocesan lawyers the following: “What did you know? and When did you know it?”. Mr. Sasso, would you please answer that question yourself for the Catholic parishioners throughout the Delaware Valley?

    As evidenced by my e-mail address, I am an exceedingly persistent and outspoken advocate when it comes to issues of injustice, deceit, corruption and abuse of power. I will continue to take this message to any person or organization that will receive my correspondence. I thank God everyday for the advances in communication technology that have made dissemination of such information very efficient and effective.

    I am hopeful, though not at all confident, that you will, in the minimum, have the courtesy to provide a reasonable response to this correspondence. In the absence of such a reply, I will initiate my advocacy in order to address the conduct and decision-making of the legal representatives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia over such a long period when multiple reports/allegations of sexual abuse were brought to the attention of the religious leaders (and their legal counsel) of the Catholic Archdiocese.

    I noticed on your law firm’s website that you attended LaSalle University and come from the tradition of the Christian Brothers. On the other hand, I attended St. Joseph’s University and have the benefit of the Jesuit education. I know that you can appreciate that the Jesuit principles encourage one to be more outspoken and strident when the issues involve those of social injustice. As a matter of fact, the Jesuit motto of “…man for others…” is really quite appropriate here when it comes to the conduct and decision-making of the Church leaders and their counsel over the many years of this scandal.

    I thank you for taking the time to review this correspondence and look forward to a response at your earliest convenience. Hopefully, a response from your firm will make it unnecessary to take my concerns to the Board of Directors of the Holy Redeemer Health System. This family has for a long time been intimately involved with the services of this religious service provider and I want to ensure that the leaders of the Holy Redeemer Health System are aware of the concerns presented in this letter.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Philadelphia, PA 19111
    skiadvocat@aol.com

    (Note: Currently, Mr. Sasso serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Holy Redeemer Health System in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. The mission and philosophy of this health delivery system is based on the tradition of the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer whose vision statement in part states: “…In faithful dedication to our call, we share the values of prayerfulness, healing presence and redemptive suffering which enable us to reach out to one another and to God’s people…”)
    Posted by: MICHAEL SKIENDZIELEWSKI at Jan 11, 2006 1:19:35 PM
    January 4, 2006

    Brother Michael J. McGinniss
    FSC, Ph.D.
    President
    Lasalle University
    1900 W. Olney Ave
    Philadelphia, PA 19141

    Dear Brother McGinniss:

    I spoke with an assistant in your office today inquiring about the status of the correspondence I sent you relative to Mr. Sasso’s professional conduct during the period of widespread allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In order to eliminate any confusion regarding the reason for my previous correspondence, I will explain why I have directed these issues to you as President and to other members of the Board of Trustees of LaSalle University.
    There is no question that the allegations (and eventual substantiation of these claims) of vicious sexual abuse and the subsequent cover-up and duplicity at the highest levels of the Archdiocese has devastated many Catholics and citizens throughout the Delaware Valley and the region. Parishioners throughout the metropolitan area want answers to certain questions regarding the conduct of executives, both lay and religious, at the Archdiocesan level as well as the conduct, decision-making and management of the allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia by its legal counsel. Unless and until these concerns and issues are addressed, the local Catholic Church cannot be healed and made whole. The explanations and directives issued by the Archdiocese hierarchy since the release of the grand jury report and investigation are not only inadequate, but at times insulting to all those Catholics who demand answers and are entitled to them.
    The Archdiocese and Church does not belong to the executives at 222 N. 17th St. nor does it belong to those who inhabit the mansions on City Ave. The Catholic Church belongs to each and every member of this archdiocese and now, more than ever, we need a more participatory, democratic management of the affairs of this institution. Only a fool would believe that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and its affairs can continue to be managed by a select few who meet behind closed doors and who have shown in the past to make decisions that are in management’s best interests and not in the interests of the youngest and most vulnerable of the parishioners in the local churches. Lives have been destroyed, spirits crushed and families broken apart because our religious and lay leaders at the highest levels decided to do what was convenient, expeditious and in their own best interests.
    Brother McGinniss, I am sure that many have shared similar thoughts with you and now it is time for LaSalle University to take part in these issues and struggles. There are many Catholics, young and old, who are students at the various campuses throughout the region and I wonder how many know that Mr. William Sasso sits on the Board of Trustees at their educational institution. Since I have initiated my correspondence with Mr. Sasso, all I have ever asked is a response to the issues raised in my letters. I have done the same with executives and lawyers at the Archdiocesan offices.
    Does the Board of Trustees at LaSalle University support Mr. Sasso and agree with his handling of the legal affairs at the Archdiocese over these many years of sexual abuse and pedophilia? One way or the other, the University and its management must take a stand and speak out. As I have said previously, with regard to such evil and despicable conduct as sexual abuse of our young children, there is no middle ground. Silence can only be understood as complicity.
    Brother McGinniss, I would gladly take these concerns and my request for a university response to your legal counsel and discuss these matters with your in-house or outside counsel. If there is counsel to the Board of Trustees, I would like to discuss these issues with that person also.
    Discussion, understanding and compromise is clearly the best avenue of resolution. So far, my efforts through Mr. Sasso have only been met by resistance, avoidance, and personal attacks. The motto that should guide all of our conduct is the following: “If a person is confident of his/her decisions made in private, then that person should be confident of his/her decisions made public.”
    A final thought is that these efforts and others like them are the future of the Catholic Church and the hope that the trust and integrity can be restored so that our Catholic religion and faith is here for our children and grandchildren.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Philadelphia, PA 19111
    skiadvocat@aol.com


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