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Pittsburgh Diocese asks Pa. Supreme Court to review case

Friday, September 27, 2019  
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

by Peter Smith

Pittsburgh Diocese asks Pa. Supreme Court to review case

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review a lower-court ruling that potentially could open floodgates to litigation over sexual abuse by priests that happened years and even decades in the past.

It is asking the top court to hear the appeal by another diocese, Altoona-Johnstown, into that precedent-setting case.

Earlier this year, the Superior Court allowed a plaintiff to sue the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese on allegations of long-running fraud and conspiracy, side-stepping the statute of limitations limiting lawsuits against abuse.

This month, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

And in four court filings last week, the Pittsburgh Diocese filed applications for extraordinary relief, asking the Supreme Court justices to resolve questions raised by the Altoona-Johnstown case.

“We’ve pointed out to them that there are lots of open questions after the decision, and we’ve asked them to give us some guidance on what that decision meant,” said attorney Robert Ridge, representing the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Diocese filed the applications in four pending lawsuits alleging abuse by its priests. It faces several more suits besides those, all of them using similar claims of fraud and conspiracy.

At issue is a Superior Court ruling in favor of plaintiff Renee Rice, who sued the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and individual church officials over a claim of being sexually abused as a child in the 1970s and 1980s by a priest.

Ms. Rice sued in 2016 after the release of a statewide grand jury report into sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.

She alleged fraud, constructive fraud and civil conspiracy on the part of the diocese and its leaders — arguing that although the statute of limitations on abuse-related lawsuits had expired, she had no way of knowing about the extent of the diocese’s cover-up until after the 2016 grand jury report was released. The Superior Court panel overturned a Blair County Common Pleas Court ruling that dismissed the case.

The pending cases against the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as well as other dioceses, were filed under the same legal theory, alleging that the plaintiffs couldn’t have known about the extent of a conspiracy of cover-up until after the release of a similar, larger grand jury report in 2018.


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