Pennsylvania Plaintiff Tries Novel Approach in Decades Old Clergy Sexual Abuse Claim

Published on July 30, 2019 by Laurie Villanueva

A Pennsylvania man is pursuing a new clergy sexual abuse lawsuit, that if successful, could provide a path for reviving similar decades-old claims in that state.

Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Allegations

According to a complaint pending in Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, Donald Asbee, now 67, was repeatedly molested by two priests, Raymond Dougherty and Walter Sempke, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg starting at the age of 9. The abuse was barely concealed, and occurred in their offices, the church choir loft, and even in the sanctity of the confessional.

“I grew up in a devoutly Catholic family,” Asbee said during a news conference announcing the filing. “I was told repeatedly obey father or I would surely go to hell. At the age of nine, I began this journey through hell itself.”

Because Dougherty and Sempke are now deceased, the lawsuit names the Harrisburg Diocese, Bishop Ronal Gainer, and former Bishop Kevin Rhoades, as defendants.   However, rather than asserting the defendant’s failed to protect Asbee from abuse, the complaint alleges they failed to meet their obligations to an active member of a church parish.

Clergy Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

Normally, Asbee’s claims would fall outside Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which requires abuse victims to file civil lawsuits by their 30th birthday. But according to PennLive.com, hisclergy sexual abuse lawsuit is the second decades-old case filed in the wake of a recent court decision that could allow plaintiffs to sidestep the state’s strict deadline.

The filing also comes nearly a year after a groundbreaking grand jury report detailed allegations against more than 300 Catholic priests credibly accused of abusing more than 1,000 children across Pennsylvania, as well as efforts by high-ranking church authorities to conceal the abuse and protect the predatory priests.

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