(August 20, 2019) Matthews & Associates Law Firm filed a lawsuit this week for a Pittsburg man who charges that he was abused by two different Catholic priests in the 1970s. The alleged abuse began when the man was 12 years old. The petitioner also filed a police report last week on the abuse with the Ohio Township Police Department in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The abuse, he said, occurred at Holy Family Institute in Emsworth. The petition names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburg and Holy Family Institute as defendants.
The Pittsburgh man, now 54, claims both Father Joseph Gerdes and Father Larry Smith sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions in the 1970s. The victim was living at the Holy Family Institute at the time of the alleged assault.
The petition demands a jury trial. It also calls for punitive damages, given the church’s alleged culpability in the crimes perpetrated against the plaintiff. Causes of action against the church and holy Family include civil conspiracy, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report
The trigger for the victim’s coming forward now was the renewed local and national attention given to Catholic priest sex abuse cases last summer. On August 14, 2018, after a two-year investigation, a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed that at least 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children in their charge. That abuse took place over several decades. The grand jury also acknowledged that their review had only scratched the surface of the actual number of those abused by trusted elders who represented the church. Sadly, many victims, likely thousands of them — given what we know of these secret, insidious crimes — continue to suffer in silence.
End Suffering in Silence
In naming the plaintiff’s abusers, said attorney David Matthews, the petition also seeks to help any others abused by these men to summon the courage to come forward, tell their own stories, and demand justice from the church .
The petition claims these facts:
“In the 1970’s, when Plaintiff, a ward of the state, was approximately 12 years old, he was sent to live at Holy Family Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Soon after Plaintiff arrived, he was asked to and became an altar boy and was introduced to Fr. Gerdes. Fr. Gerdes lived in the same quarters as Plaintiff, and Plaintiff was required to clean Fr. Gerdes’s loft as part of his service to the Institute. Shortly after Plaintiff began his duties as an altar boy, Fr. Gerdes took Plaintiff into his brown Mercedes. While in the car, Fr. Gerdes groped Plaintiffs genitals and forced Plaintiff to perform oral sex on Fr. Gerdes. Fr. Gerdes took Plaintiff from the car to his loft where he continued the sexually assault, attempting to anally penetrate Plaintiff.”
The petition further states that the plaintiff was still required to clean Fr. Gerdes’s loft, and was again forced to perform oral sex on Fr. Gerdes. The clergyman also attempted again to anally penetrate the plaintiff, failed, and then performed oral sex on the child. The instances of abuse occurred more than ten times.
Father: Abuse was “what God wanted” and “How it was supposed to be”
The young plaintiff was told by Fr. Gerdes that this deviant behavior was “how it was supposed to be.” The plaintiff said that Fr. Gerdes told him the abuse was “what God wanted,” and that “no one would believe him even if he did tell.”
Based on the beliefs instilled in him by the Church, as well as by Fr. Gerdes’ direct statements to him, the young plaintiff believed that his immortal soul would be condemned should he reveal Fr. Gerdes’ ongoing sexual assaults.
The plaintiff said that Fr. Gerdes would typically give him money following the abuse, which he would then use to buy candy.
Priest Partners in Crime – Frs. Smith and Gerdes
Fr. Gerdes also introduced the plaintiff to Fr. Larry Smith, a visiting priest at Holy Family Institute. Fr. Smith visited the Institute several times. At first, Fr. Smith would touch the plaintiff “playfully,” a term the plaintiff used to mask the inappropriate groping he thought normal at the time, given his grooming by Fr. Gerdes. Then Fr. Smith’s “touching” escalated quickly to sexual groping and forced oral sex on the 12 year old. Fr. Smith also forced the child to perform oral sex on Fr. Smith.
These deviant acts occurred during Fr. Smith’s different visits to the Institute.
The petition reads: “Due to Plaintiffs forced and inappropriate relationship with Father Gerdes, he believed this to be the norm. According to a transmittal received by Plaintiff, Fr. Smith is retired, but still has his faculties with the Diocese.
These are just the instances of abuse that Plaintiff recalls at this time and merely
summarize the torture that Plaintiff experienced at the hands of Perpetrators. Further, the whereabouts of these priests are unknown. Due to the secrecy of Defendants, and its agents and institutions. Plaintiff is without proper means to determine where his abusers are or if they have harmed others.”
Two Pittsburg Priests named in Catholic Church Lawsuit
The petition also demands that the church open up its secret books in order to determine what church officials knew about the abuse and when they knew it. The Pennsylvania grand jury report showed again and again that Catholic church officials not only routinely failed to report the crime of child molestation to the proper authorities, but also failed to remove the offending priests from service, often shuttling them off to another parish where they were able to abuse other children.