Attorney General

Woman Alleges Deceased Former Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua Groped Her as a Child, Lawsuit Claims

A woman said she was sexually abused by three Catholic priests, including Bevilacqua, when she was a child in Pittsburgh

What to Know

  • A woman from western Pennsylvania says three priests sexually abused her as a child. One of the accused is the late Rev. Anthony Bevilacqua.
  • Bevilacqua was the Archbishop of Philadelphia from 1987 through 2003. The woman says he was Bishop of Pittsburgh when the assault happened.
  • The woman said she came forward after reading about widespread abuse in the Pa. AG's Grand Jury report.

A newly-filed lawsuit claims Anthony Bevilacqua, the deceased former Archbishop of Philadelphia, was among three Roman Catholic priests who sexually assaulted a Pittsburgh woman during her childhood.

The assaults took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the woman was between the ages of 5 and 13 years old, the civil lawsuit filed Friday in Allegheny County claims.

The woman said Bevilacqua, who was head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh at the time, groped her chest behind a partition in the lunchroom of her Catholic grade school.

Over a two-year period when the woman was between 5 and 7 years old, another priest, the Rev. Lawrence O'Connell, fondled her on top of her school uniform in the St. Gabriel's Church rectory, the complaint says.

The Rev. Edward Huff, the third accused priest, allegedly fondled the girl's privates a half-dozen times in 1983 and 1984, according to the lawsuit.

The woman said O'Connell and Huff, along with a nun, urged her to keep quiet about the incidents with Huff vowing to bar her from attending a mass where she'd receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Fr. Nicholas S. Vaskov, director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Friday evening that the diocese has "never received an allegation" that Bevilacqua abused anyone.

"We will evaluate each matter filed in Court and respond as required by the rules of Court. We remain committed to assisting victims and prefer to direct resources to victims rather than litigation. However, once suits are filed we are compelled by law to respond," Vaskov said in an email to NBC10.

Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said, "Today’s news reports are the first time the Archdiocese has learned of any such allegations. As there is no ability for a deceased person to speak to such accusations, we will not be commenting further."

Bevilacqua served as Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1983 to 1987. He took over as Archbishop of Philadelphia in 1987 and served in the role until 2003. The end of his tenure was shrouded in controversy amid the Philadelphia District Attorney's investigation into pedophile priests serving in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bevilacqua died in January 2012. O'Connell died in 1986. It is unclear if Huff is still alive.

In the early 1990s, Huff was accused of molesting several boys and was sentenced to up to five years in prison, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The woman's assaults were not included in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's explosive grand jury report released in August. The grand jury found more than 1,000 victims of assaults by 300 "predator priests" and alleged a massive cover-up operation by church leaders.

The woman, who has since moved to San Diego, California, decided to come forward after reading the grand jury report and learning about systemic abuse in the Pittsburgh diocese, the suit says.

Among the defendants listed is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former head of the Pittsburgh diocese and current Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl is prominently named in the Pa. AG report for allegedly covering up sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy — claims he's repeatedly denied.

The woman is seeking unspecified damages.

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