Alleged Victim of Clergy Sex Abuse Sues Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Bishops
A man who claims he was sexually abused by two priests in the Diocese of Harrisburg in the 1960s is now filing a lawsuit against the Diocese, a former Bishop, and the current Bishop. This is after he turned down a victim compensation fund offer.
From 1960-1965, Donald Asbee says two priests repeatedly raped and sexually abused him while he served as an altar boy. He’s now suing the Diocese, one former Bishop, and the current Bishop, for punitive damages. Asbee claims he was sexually assaulted first by Father Raymond Daugherty when he became an altar boy at age 9.
“Fondling led to masturbation, and from there, to routine sodomy,” Asbee details during a press conference Tuesday morning.
He claims Father Daugherty took a liking to him, and asked him to come to his office for Catechism lessons. Asbee was even given a special medal.
“The special attention from Father Daugherty was accompanied by the gift a very special Lady of Lourdes medal. It was electroplate gold, and such a treasure,” Asbee explains.
According to the lawsuit, Father Daugherty would make Asbee sit on his lap during the lessons. One time, Asbee says, Father Daugherty touched Asbee’s body in the genital area while making religious statements dealing with God and Jesus. The lawsuit states Father Daugherty told Asbee this “was our secret time.” Asbee says the abuse continued, from making Asbee undress, to Daugherty fondling Asbee and vice versa, to sodomy. The lawsuit says the abuse happened from December 1961 until June 1962, when Father Daugherty was transferred. Asbee believes the medal he was given, though, alerted Father Walter Sempko that Asbee was an ideal target for abuse.
“Little did I know that that very gift from Father Daugherty was the message to his successor Father Walter Sempko, that I was already broken in,” says Asbee.
Richard Serbin, one of Asbee’s attorneys, says Asbee came forward after learning about the use of special medallions to “mark” children in the Grand Jury Report released last year.
Father Sempko took over for Father Daugherty in 1962, and is also accused of sexually abusing Asbee. According to the lawsuit, Father Sempko began selecting Asbee to serve mass at special occasions, which made him feel special. Asbee says he was even selected to be confirmed in the Catholic Church earlier than any of his classmates. But like Father Daugherty, Asbee says Father Sempko had an ulterior motive with the special attention.
“He would use his power to subject me to excruciating rape,” Asbee explains.
According to the lawsuit, the pain was so extreme that Asbee often passed out. Father Sempko, Asbee says, started sexually assaulting him by fondling his genitalia. He says that progressed to violent sodomization, when he was forced to lay across Father Sempko’s desk. After years of silence, Asbee is now making his voice heard.
“I am on a mission to speak out to anyone who will listen. This cycle must end,” Asbee says.
Asbee turned down an offer from the Victim Compensation Fund of $176,875, an amount Attorney Serbin says is too low. Instead, Asbee and his legal team are suing for punitive damages.
“Punitive damages send a message. And I would suggest to you that is one message that the Diocese, all of them in Pennsylvania, and the Vatican recognize. That is when they have to pay out of their funds. That’s something they care about,” Serbin says.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Dauphin County Court, and names three defendants: the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, former Bishop Kevin Rhoades, and current Bishop Ronald Gainer. The three counts included in the lawsuit are Conspiracy, Fraud, and Constructive Fraud.
The lawsuit claims that the three defendants conspired with other Bishops, Dioceses, and the Vatican to cover up child sexual abuse within thee Catholic Church.
“There was more of a concern, in fact, solely a concern for the reputation of the Priests and the Church. Children were expendable,” Attorney Serbin says.
Although Bishops Rhoades and Gainer were not holding office at the time of the alleged abuse Asbee is claiming, Serbin says they were included in the lawsuit because they were or are involved in the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, and they’re alive.
“The two Bishops that are identified as named defendants are alive, that’s why they’re named. I have sued in the past estates, but I chose not to do that in this case,” Serbin says. “They are a part of the conspiracy,” he adds.
David Clohessy, a former National Director and Spokesman for Survivor’s Network of Those Abused By Priests, or SNAP, was present at Tuesday’s press conference, and says Bishop Gainer has a lot of responsibility.
“It is the moral and civic duty of Bishop Gainer to use Church Bulletins, and Parish websites, and pulpit announcements to beg every single victim, witness, or whistleblower to call law enforcement. He’s a shepherd, and he’s not doing it, and virtually none of them are, and that would make an enormous difference,” Clohessy says.
The Superior Court recently ruled in Rice v. Diocese of Altoona, a case also led by Serbin, that under certain factual situations, child sex abuse lawsuits may be filed past statute of limitations time limits. Mirroring the Rice case, the Asbee case also alleges conspiracy, fraud, and constructive fraud. On the Diocese of Harrisburg website, Bishop Gainer addresses the statute of limitations law.
“The Diocese and I as your Bishop have said many times that we support revising the criminal Statute of Limitations. The civil statute of limitations reform, specifically the so-called “window” legislation, is not legislation we can support. An open window on old claims would force the Diocese to severely curtail its ministries,” the Harrisburg Diocesan website states.
Matt Haverstick is an attorney representing the Diocese of Harrisburg. He addressed the media following Tuesday’s press conference.
“I haven’t read the lawsuit yet. We’ll manage it as we do all challenging matters that come into the church. My overall response is I think the Diocese of Harrisburg and Bishop Gainer particularly have done a very good job in trying to respond to the hurt the survivors have suffered, and we’re going to continue to do what I think is a good job. That means offering counseling, that means the survivors fund, that means helping those that need help. And we’ll continue to try to do that,” Haverstick responded.
We reached out to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, which released a statement on the lawsuit. In it, Bishop Gainer responded by saying: “In my own name, and in the name of the Diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I continue to express our profound sorrow and apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse, the Catholic faithful and the general public for the abuses that took place and for those Church officials who failed to protect children.”
Harrisburg Diocesan Spokesman Mike Barley added a statement as well, saying: ““As our attorneys have not yet reviewed the complaint in question, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time. To be clear, the actions alleged in this complaint took place long before Bishop Gainer’s tenure in Harrisburg. Bishop Gainer has been open and transparent with regard to priest-child sexual abuse and had no knowledge of the priests mentioned in this lawsuit’s actions until research was conducted during the Grand Jury Process. Our Survivor Compensation Program is coming to a conclusion and we will be making a final report available once it is completed.”
Haverstick, and the Diocese of Harrisburg, pointed to the fact that Bishop Gainer released a list of 71 names of clergy and seminarians in the Diocese accused of sexually abusing minors, and each allegation was reported to law enforcement. Bishop Gainer says any person on that list has been removed from any position of honor throughout the Diocese, and their name has been removed from any building, facility, or room in the Diocese.
The lawsuit says the defendants have to file a written response within 20 days. The defendant has demanded a jury trial take place.