Lawsuit alleges Diocese returned pedophile Carbon County priest to service

 

A Lehigh County man alleges he was sexually abused by a Carbon County priest years after the priest was sent to a New Mexico facility, where he was to receive treatment for allegedly assaulting at least one other child.

The Philadelphia-based law firm Williams Cedar on Monday announced that it filed a lawsuit in Lehigh County Court against retired priest Bruno M. Tucci and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. The victim alleges the abuse occurred between 1999 and 2001 while he served as an altar boy at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Nesquehoning, Carbon County.

The suit also names former Bishop Edward Cullen, current Bishop Alfred Schlert and the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete.

Tucci, who now lives in Maryland, was a priest in the Allentown Diocese from April 1971 through March 2002 and served at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel from 1986 until his retirement in 2002. The Diocese includes Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schulykill counties.

The lawsuit alleges that Diocese officials were notified in 1991 that Tucci allegedly sexually abused a 14-year-old boy years earlier. During a meeting with a Diocese official, Tucci allegeldy admitted that he had indeed molested the victim as reported, according to court papers. The lawsuit alleges that victim wasn't Tucci's only victim.

The Diocese neither disciplined Tucci, nor warned parishioners of his conduct, according to the suit.

The Diocese sent Tucci to a Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete facility in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, to be "evaluated" and "treated." The suit alleges that the facility was not staffed by licensed professionals and was "used routinely to recycle unreformed pedophilic priests back into active ministry," where they had regular contact with children.

The victim, who complained about Tucci in 1991, reportedly reiterated his complaint to the Diocese in 1993 when Tucci was returned to active ministry. Tucci served two parishes in Nesquehoning.

The victim, who filed suit on Monday, alleges Tucci abused him between 1999 and 2001, when he was 10 to 12 years old. Tucci allegedly made "skin-to-skin contact" with the boy and groped his genitals. On one occasion, Tucci allegedly instructed the boy to "put his arms out like Jesus on the cross" at which point Tucci fondled the boy.

The lawsuit alleges that Tucci was allowed to retire in March 2002 in response to the publicity surrounding widespread abuse. The Diocese received a complaint in May 2002 from another victim, who alleged abuse by Tucci between 1977 and 1988. In 2007, Tucci was officially removed from the priesthood.

The victim accuses the Diocese and former Bishop Edward Cullen of failing to report Tucci to authorities. The victim maintains that the abuse resulted in mental health issues, drug addiction and alcoholism all of which led to behavioral issues, including a conviction on drug-related charges.

The six-count lawsuit seeks damages in excess of the limits set by arbitration rules in Lehigh County.

The diocese released a statement Monday afternoon indicating that that "Diocesan records indicate that Bruno Tucci was removed from ministry more than 16 years ago, on March 1, 2002. He was later dismissed from the priesthood."

"Since becoming Bishop on August 31, 2017, Bishop Alfred Schlert has acted immediately on any allegations, removing the priest from ministry and notifying law enforcement.

Abuse is abhorrent and has no place in the Church. Bishop Schlert has apologized to victims and has set a clear tone of zero tolerance, and of keeping children safe.

The Diocese recently announced the formation of a compensation and reconciliation program to assist victims and survivors of past clergy sexual abuse. Although compensation alone cannot repair the damage caused to those who were harmed, this program will meaningfully assist in recovery and healing for victims and survivors and their families."

Tucci was among 37 offenders within the Allentown Diocese identified in a scathing state grand jury report released in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The report found that priests in six dioceses engaged in sexual contact with minors, and the evidence shows that Diocesan administrators, including the bishops, had knowledge of the conduct.

The lawsuit filed Monday accuses Cullen of being aware of the sexual misconduct within the diocese, much of which was hidden in "secret archives" that were not released until the statewide grand jury issued a subpoena in 2016.

The Diocese of Allentown announced earlier this month that it will create a compensation and reconciliation program for victims of past clergy sexual abuse. Other Pennsylvania dioceses are establishing similar programs.

The Associated Press report that the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the group's national meeting in Baltimore Monday by announcing it will delay for at least several months any action on proposed new steps to address the clergy sex abuse crisis that is rocking the church.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Monday that the delay was requested by the Vatican, which asked that the U.S. bishops wait until after a Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse in February.

DiNardo told the U.S. bishops that "I remain hopeful that this additional consultation will ultimately improve our response to the crisis we face."

They are meeting through Wednesday in Baltimore and had been expected to consider several steps to combat abuse, including a new code of conduct for themselves.

Watch 69News at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. for Jaccii Farris's report on the lawsuit and the news conference Monday in Philadelphia.