New Lawsuit Against PA’s Catholic Dioceses Demands More Disclosures

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KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Two people who have accused priests of molestation in Philadelphia have filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and all of the state’s dioceses demanding that additional church secrets be exposed.

The suit filed on Thursday in Common Pleas Court marks the latest civil action following this summer’s grand jury report implicating more than 300 so-called predator priests who allegedly abused minors and covered up decades of crime.

Attorney Jeff Anderson announces a suit against the Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses on behalf of victims of clergy child sexual abuse. He is joined by victim Daniel Hillanbrand and Hillanbrand’s wife, Donna. (Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY)

Plaintiff Daniel Hillanbrand, 48, a warehouse manager who now lives in North Carolina, said in the early 1980s he was abused in Philadelphia by Rev. James Dux, who has been accused of numerous instances of sexual misconduct by other minors.

The cases of Hillanbrand and the other plaintiff in the suit, LeeAnne Natali, 57, who says she was abused by a Philadelphia priest in the 1970s, were not involved in the scathing state grand jury report released in August because previous grand juries had already investigated clergy sex abuse in Philadelphia.

Both claims in the suit are too old under the law to be pursued for monetary damages, but lawyers for the plaintiffs say this legal challenge has a different aim: to reveal the names of additional clergy members involved in enabling abusers across the state.

“They’re all engaged in the same practice in concert and they are continuing to cause peril for minors,” said Minnesota-based lawyer Jeffrey Anderson, who is the lead attorney on the suit. “The grand jury report this summer named the problem, and we’re trying to do something about it to make communities safer.”

The complaint, which makes conspiracy and nuisance claims under state law, is asking a court to force every diocese across Pennsylvania to reveal every top clergy member who took part in enabling and concealing child sex abuse.

Anderson said the 884-page grand jury report overseen by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office provided powerful evidence of the depth of the scandal. Yet, the report, he said, may not have done enough to avert future harm.

“It does not reveal, nor does it force, any of the Catholic bishops to reveal the actual perils that only they know,” Anderson said. “That is, the names of all the offenders, or the history of all those bishops and top officials that have covered it up. In other words, it allows them to keep the dangerous secrets secret.”

Hillanbrand’s abuser was named in a 2005 report conducted by a grand jury and overseen by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

For some other survivors, though, their abusers remain in the shadows, he said.

“There’s lots of others who haven’t been named, and it’s key to know who everyone was and who everyone was who was covering it up. Everybody’s name should be released who had anything to do with it,” he said after a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “I just want, hopefully, to be able to help somebody else come forward. That is one of the main goals: to protect children in the future and stop the cover-up. And hopefully it gives somebody else the courage to come forward with their story.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia declined to comment on the suit.

Last month, the Department of Justice began its own probe, sending subpoenas to dioceses around the state as part of a possible racketeering case that could end up treating the church as a crime syndicate that has conspired to perpetuate and conceal criminal activity.

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