Priest Suits Pile up

The Tribune-Democrat [Altoona PA]
Downloaded March 6, 2003

ALTOONA - Amid a growing controversy about pedophile priests, the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese was hit yesterday with two more lawsuits claiming abuse by clerics.

Two priests - one still in the active ministry and another on medical leave - face claims they sexually abused two altar boys in the 1980s.

The latest lawsuits in Blair County Court come one month after five other men who were altar boys claimed they were abused by two other priests on church property.

In addition, the Rev. Martin McCamley, former music director at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, was placed on administrative leave late last week because of allegations that he forced a young male student to sleep with him during a field trip.

Still pending is an appeal before state Supreme Court on whether the diocese will have to pay $1 million in punitive damages to a man sexually abused by the Rev. Francis Luddy, a defrocked Altoona priest. The victim in that case was paid $1.2 million in compensatory damages and interest two years ago.

In the new allegations, the Rev. Bernard Grattan, a former hospital chaplain in Johnstown, is accused of molesting a boy at St. Patrick's Church in Newry, Blair County. The Rev. Robert Kelly, who formerly was at churches in Johnstown, allegedly abused a boy at a State College church.

The diocese, Bishop Joseph Adamec and retired Bishop James J. Hogan again are named as defendants.

The two men who say they were the victims and their attorney, Richard Serbin of Altoona, met with reporters yesterday at Serbin's office on Logan Boulevard in Altoona.

Both men came from religious families and were taught to respect priests, Serbin said. He said that the diocese, in a long-followed practice, hushed up the accusations and transferred the priests - and said that policy continues today under Adamec.

It was an emotional conference for Paul D. Claar of Altoona, who alleges he was molested by Grattan for four years starting when Claar was 12 years old in 1979.

Claar, who broke into tears and was unable to continue to speak, said he revealed the allegations 10 years ago to Adamec. The bishop "did nothing about it," Claar contended. "He assured me everything would be taken care of."

Instead, Grattan continued to be transferred to various assignments by the bishop, Claar said.

He broke down when Serbin described how Claar, a devout Catholic, even volunteered mowing the grass weekly at the Newry church.

Anthony M. Coray, 39, of State College said in a prepared statement, "For as painful as it was, the most devastating part of my encounters with Father Kelly was not the violation of my body, but the damage to my soul."

Kelly molested Coray for two years, the lawsuit alleges, also starting when Coray was 12 years old in 1975 and an altar boy at Our Lady of Victory Church in State College.

Coray said he now has been able to understand that "my feelings of betrayal and shame and guilt are just expressions of the evil that forced itself on me and left its indelible mark."

In a telephone interview, Kelly said his first reaction to the lawsuit was the "viciousness" of recent coverage in The Tribune-Democrat, which he said has disturbed many people.

He said Coray's story yesterday is very different from the initial allegation 10 years ago.

Kelly said Coray has added and expanded on the original allegation.

Coray and Coray's attorney will be hearing from his attorney within days, Kelly said.

Kelly said he has not sexually abused Coray or anyone else.

He said in the initial allegation 10 years ago, Coray said Kelly didn't do anything sexual to him, but that he made him feel uncomfortable by putting his arms around him.

Coray reported that the incident took place when he was a sixth-grader at a parochial school, Kelly said. Kelly said the time when he put his arms around Coray was years later when Coray was graduating from Penn State University. He said he hugged Coray to wish him good luck in the future.

Kelly said his speculation of why Coray has added to the story is because Coray wants money from the diocese.

He said the reason people are upset with the newspaper is that the publication is "sensationalizing" stories covered in the news media years ago.

Coray said he decided to speak out because secrecy only perpetuates continuing sexual abuse.

By going public, he said he hopes that it will be easier for children being abused by priests to tell a trusted adult about the abuse.

The diocese, in a statement issued yesterday, said the abuse allegations have not been ignored. In addition, the two men have been assisted by the diocese with therapy.

Grattan was immediately asked to relinquish his ministerial duties when the accusations were made in June 1994 and received in-patient evaluation and subsequent treatment for several months.

Although he served as a hospital chaplain in Johnstown, he ceased functioning as a priest about a year ago when he went on a medical leave, the diocese said.

Kelly, now pastor SS. Peter and Paul's Church in Phillipsburg, Centre County, "has denied and continues to deny this allegation," the diocese said. Several professional evaluations failed to substantiate them, the statement said.

Because the abuse took place more than two decades ago and is beyond the statute of limitations, the priests themselves are not named as defendants, Serbin said. The victims are seeking unspecified compensation for the abuse and their pain and suffering along with punitive damages.

Because the diocese continues to protect pedophile priests, the statute does not apply under a legal "doctrine of fraud and concealment," Serbin said.

The diocese is likely to make a strong challenge on the statute of limitations issue.

Grattan's whereabouts could not be determined.

During his ministry, Kelly has served as diocesan director of vocations, campus minister at Mount Aloysius Junior Colleges, chaplain at Altoona Hospital and assignments at St. Benedict's Church in Geistown and Our Mother of Sorrows in Westmont.

Kelly, who was ordained in 1974, is an Ebensburg native and a 1966 graduate of Bishop Carroll High School there.

Grattan, a Johnstown native, is a graduate of the former Franklin High School and once served at Sacred Heart Church in Conemaugh. He was ordained a priest in 1975 and formerly was Catholic chaplain at Memorial Medical Center and Good Samaritan Hospital in Johnstown.

Staff writer Frank Sojak contributed to this report.

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