(May 27, 2020) — A Texas man alleges in a lawsuit that he was sexually abused and tortured in a church basement in the 1970s. The man is suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. His complaint also names one of its churches, St. Catharine of Siena in Reading, claiming that he was sexually abused and tortured by several priests in the 1970s.
The plaintiff’s attorneys say their client learned that he was not the only Allentown Diocese priest victim after he read the scathing 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report. That publication shocked the world by showing that more than 1,000 Pennsylvania priests had sexually abused more than 300 children over a period of several decades. The man seeks a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
Filed last week in Lehigh County Court, the plaintiff’s petition alleges that he was sexually abused by two priests, the Rev. Joseph Grembocki and the Rev. David A. Soderlund, in addition to several other priests whom he cannot identify.
Though Grembocki, who died in July 2016, is not named in the grand jury report, Soderlund has been credibly accused of abuse by several survivors.
Soderlund was named in the grand jury report. He was defrocked in 2005. He then moved to Wyoming, where he was sent to prison for exploiting children and possessing child pornography. He is a registered sex offender.
The Texas man’s lawsuit appears to come well past Pennsylvania’s tight statute of limitations, which says a civil case alleging abuse from childhood must be filed before an alleged victim’s 30th birthday. His attorneys, however, said the grand jury report revealed to them “an entirely new set of facts previously unknown,” which allows the man his legal chance for a day in court.
Attorneys David P. Matthews and Timothy K. Goss wrote in their petition that the diocese “made, and continues to make” efforts to protect predator priests by “actively concealing known facts of sexual abuse of children, failing to report such abuse to the proper authorities, and failing to properly remove sexually abusive clergy members from their positions and their access to minor children.”
“The diocese learned about the lawsuit from a reporter [who writes for The Morning Call]. We will be reviewing it,” diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said last week.
The plaintiff stated in the 35-page lawsuit petition that he was one of five children of a widow who was devoutly Roman Catholic. His father died from a heart attack.
In April 1972, says the lawsuit, Fr. Grembocki made a surprise visit to the family’s Reading home, where the boy’s mother confided to the priest that she was concerned about her son and his brother’s well-being.
The suit says Grembocki offered to take the boys “under his wing” to help them with their Catholic studies.
Bible Study Nightmare
During what the plaintiff was told was Bible study at St. Catharine’s, the suit alleges, Grembocki gave the boys a strange-tasting drink that they were told was “sacramental liquid.” The drink made the boys drowsy and they would sometimes fall asleep, the suit says. The children would wake up in a basement or room below St. Catharine’s, the suit states, where Grembocki, Soderlund and two to three unidentified priests would sexually abuse and torture them.
According to the petition, the priests would call the plaintiff “Spawn of Satan,” and “Devil Child” during the assaults, and blame him for his father’s death. The suit describes torture that the plaintiff said he endured, including being sealed in a coffin with what he believed to be human bones, and being dropped into a tub of urine to “counteract his baptism.”
The suit states that each torture session would end with the priests saying to the plaintiff, “Until death do us part.”
The suit also alleges that Soderlund started a “single moms with kids” club at St. Catharine’s to identify and groom vulnerable children. The priest would invite young boys on outings and road trips in a trailer stocked with liquor. The suit states that boys who became drunk were carried to the priest’s bed and sexually assaulted.
When the plaintiff refused to drink alcohol, says the suit, Soderlund secretly drugged him.
Soderland Named in Penn Grand Jury Report
Soderland served at St. Catharine’s in 1971, according to the grand jury report. The first abuse allegations against him date to 1980. The grand jury report does not allege that Soderlund, or any of the 301 priests accused statewide, engaged in the kinds of torture the plaintiff says occurred in the church basement.
50+ Allentown Priests accused of Abuse
More than 50 Allentown Diocese priests have been accused of abusing children.
The plaintiff’s attorneys say St. Catharine’s and the diocese should have protected children from the priests. Instead, they say, those entities engaged in a pattern of covering up the abuse to avoid a scandal detailed in the grand jury report.
“Defendants’ conduct was outrageous in that they disregarded plaintiff’s safety and their duty to protect him from child rape and sexual abuse while he was in their custody and control, in favor of protecting their own reputation and financial interests,” wrote the attorneys in the complaint.
The plaintiff said in the lawsuit that he suffered physical and ongoing emotional injuries from the abuse. His lawsuit summarizes information from the grand jury report, which revealed that Soderlund admitted to sexually abusing three boys in 1980 while serving as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Summit Hill. He was removed from ministry, underwent counseling, and was told to have no contact with children.
In 1986, Soderlund became director of pastoral care at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, Pottsville. There, said the grand jury report, he was removed after he “began to act out sexually with a young boy.”
Grembocki died in July 2016 at the age of 72 while serving as pastor at Assumption BVM Church in Slatington. According to his obituary, he began his career as parochial vicar at St. Catharine of Siena. He also served at St. John Baptist de la Salle Church in Shillington, St. Paul Church in Allentown, and he was an administrator at St. Kunegunda Church in McAdoo.
Since the shocking 2018 grand jury report, Catholic churches across Pennsylvania and the U.S. have been the subject of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests. In January 2020, an Allentown Diocese report revealed that its compensation program for victims of childhood sexual abuse has, so far, paid out nearly $9 million to 47 victims. Fewer than half of the claims received by the diocese have been resolved. The church created the fund in response to the 2018 grand jury report. Based on information in the diocese’ report, those who have received compensation thus far have accepted an average of $191,000.
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