A mother of eight from Central Pennsylvania is suing the The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in New Britain Township and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, claiming that a priest at the shrine sexually assaulted her. The woman and her husband, who is also a plaintiff, allege that the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office did not thoroughly investigate the matter and the accused priest fled to Poland.
DA Dave Heckler says the priest was questioned, and there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant an arrest.
“We did not deem the allegations credible,” he said.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, the woman — named only as Jane Doe — described attending marriage counseling at the shrine with her husband.
The priest, who is not being named in this story because no criminal charges were filed, asked questions about the couple’s sex life and the woman’s history of being sexually abused as a child, the lawsuit states. The priest then invited the woman to attend private spiritual counseling sessions, she claims in the lawsuit, then sexually assaulted her when they were alone.
Attorney Marci Hamilton, who is representing the couple along with lawyer Daniel Monahan, says that the couple are devout Catholics who feel devastated and betrayed.
“The suffering of this rape victim is compounded by the feeling that no one is listening to her,” Hamilton said.
The alleged sex assault was said to have occurred in a private room at the Ferry Road shrine on March 26, 2012.
“(The priest) sexually abused and assaulted the plaintiff without her consent and against her will. He did so by
grooming her, and then using physical, intellectual, moral, emotional and psychological force,” the suit states.
The woman told a Czestochowa official, the suit states, who told the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Heckler says the archdiocese did notify his office, and New Britain Township police were called. A detective and a prosecutor from the office’s sexual assault investigation unit went to the shrine and talked to the priest.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the priest invoked “confessional privilege” and refused to answer questions.
Heckler said the priest did talk to investigators and answered questions, but declined to say what the woman and
her husband said during counseling. Heckler said the priest denied assaulting the woman and there was no DNA or other physical evidence to back up
her claims. He said investigators wanted to record a phone conversation between the woman and the priest, but by
the time they learned of the allegations, the woman’s husband had confronted the priest, so he knew that he was
“Ultimately, we determined that there wasn’t proper base for prosecution,” he said.
Hamilton, an advocate for sex assault victims who represented a man who sued former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, says the case highlights a failure with the priests’ order, the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit, also known as the Pauline Fathers.4/4/13 PriestfromCzestochowa accused in civil suit of sexual assault- phillyburbs.com: Doylestown
Hamilton claims that she learned while preparing the lawsuit that the Pauline Fathers have no policy in place for dealing with sex offenders in their midst.
“In 2013, that is unacceptable,” she said.
Hamilton has lobbied for a changes in child abuse laws, including changing the statute of limitations so that victims would have more time to report.
Heckler was appointed by the governor last year to chair a state committee considering changes to child abuse laws.
The panel did not recommend changing the statute of limitations.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages in excess of $50,000. Hamilton said they would like to see the priest extradited
from Poland, arrested and imprisoned.
“What she really wants is the truth,” she said.
Archdiocese spokesman Kenneth Gavin declined to comment on the lawsuit. A woman who answered the phone at
Our Lady of Czestochowa said all the priests were busy and no one could come to the phone to answer questions.