Richard Serbin

Attorney Richard Serbin meets with reporters Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at his office in Altoona.

A lawsuit has been filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and two of its bishops, accusing them of fraud, constructive fraud and conspiracy, for allegedly covering up sexual abuse that was committed by a priest serving at Holy Family Church in Seward during the 1970s.

Rev. George Pierce, now deceased, is accused of assaulting an unnamed plaintiff, represented by attorney Richard Serbin.

“The lawsuit alleges that my client, who is a Jane Doe, was sexually molested,” Serbin said during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Specifically, she was required to perform oral sex. She was digitally penetrated. She was penetrated with objects, the head of a screw driver. It began at age 10 ½ to 11 and went to age 14.”

A request for comment was made to the Greensburg Diocese. An email response was provided: “Thank you for your inquiry. We haven’t been served with the suit yet.”

Jane Doe alleges the abuse occurred for approximately four years, beginning in 1973-1974, a time period during which Bishop William G. Connare – now deceased – headed the diocese.

Serbin alleges the diocese was aware Pierce had been accused of previous abuse and did not take action, which, in retrospect, he argues could have protected his client.

A grand jury report into sexual abuse throughout six Pennsylvania dioceses, released by the Office of Attorney General in 2018, mentioned that a female had accused Pierce of abusing her, starting in 1968 when she was 12 years old at St. Gertrude Church in Aultman, Indiana County. The abuse allegedly continued even after Pierce was reassigned from St. Gertrude to Holy Family in June 1972.

The woman filed a civil claim against the diocese in 1997 and received a $30,000 settlement.

But, according to the grand jury report, the diocese was allegedly aware of the abuse decades earlier.

“Pierce’s Diocesan file reveals that Bishop William Connare knew about inappropriate behavior between Pierce and a young woman in his parish as early as 1972,” according to the report. “Connare instructed Pierce not to hire ‘a teenage woman from his former parish as housekeeper.’ Connare received several complaints from parishioners about young women staying overnight at the parish. While Connare sent Pierce several letters of warning, he took no further action on the matter.”

The document continued: “Pierce acknowledged having an inappropriate relationship with the victim, but denied having sexual intercourse with her. Rather, he contended they only engaged in mutual masturbation. Pierce further stated he was in love with the victim and also claimed that ‘after [the victim], he ‘white knuckled’ it.’ “

Jane Doe alleges her abuse started soon after Pierce arrived at Holy Family.

Her mother worked for the parish, including during a period when the father was hospitalized, according to Serbin.

“He threatened her to fire the mother from her job if she told any one, so this guy was a real monster,” Serbin said. “But I would say that, as evil as this child predator was, the conduct of the diocese and Bishop Connare, in my opinion, was even more criminal because they knew about this George Pierce that he was a child molester before he ever got to the parish where he molested my client. And they moved him on.”

Pierce served at Holy Family until 1985 when he was reassigned to a church in Fayette County. Following therapy and evaluation, he retired from the priesthood in 1998, moving into a community located within the Diocese of Erie, and was not permitted to function as a priest, according to the grand jury report. A second allegation was made against him by a male in 2002. In 2004, a request was made to Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, to remove Pierce from the clerical state.

He died in 2009.

Connare died in 1995.

Serbin named Bishop Edward Malesic and Bishop (emeritus) Lawrence Brandt, the diocese’s two living bishops, in the lawsuit. He also included the Vatican as a non-party defendant, accusing the church of a “systemic” cover-up of child abuse.

The accusations fall outside of the commonwealth’s current civil statute of limitations, which is when the victim turns 30.

However, earlier this year, in a case brought by Serbin for his client, Renée Rice, against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, a Superior Court of Pennsylvania panel ruled that if a jury finds sufficient facts to prove a confidential relationship resulted in fraudulent concealment, then defendants cannot gain favorable rulings based upon the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Serbin has since filed multiple civil claims based upon that ruling that is being challenged.

“I will continue to file lawsuits as long as Rice is the law in the state of Pennsylvania,” Serbin said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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