The Diocese of Allentown is not liable for the sexual abuse of a South Korean exchange student in a private dormitory where she stayed while attending Pius X High School, according to a ruling by Northampton County Judge Michael Koury Jr.
While the attorney representing the diocese praised Koury’s decision, the lawyer representing the victim in the sex-abuse case voiced disappointment.
“I have a lot of respect for Judge Koury, but I think he got it wrong. It shouldn’t have gone on,” Howard Myerowitz said of the abuse endured by his client. “This was one of those strange cases where there was a disclosure [of the abuse], but it continued. And that’s what bothers me so much about it.”
The decision, handed down Thursday, exonerates the diocese, the now-closed Pius X in Bangor and a priest identified only as Father Tom Doe from liability. But the case against the owners of the dormitory and the abuser, Richard Kim, is still poised to move forward.
The victim was 14 when she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by 37-year-old Kim at the now-shuttered ACE Academy in Pen Argyl, where he was working as a tutor. At the time, the teenage girl was attending Pius X, which closed its doors this year due to lack of enrollment.
Kim’s parents, Min Taek Kim and Yong Ran Kim, were in charge of the dormitory and are named in the lawsuit. Kim admitted to assaulting the girl in 2012 and is serving a 31/2-to seven-year state prison sentence. His parents served probationary sentences after pleading guilty to failure to report sexual abuse.
The civil lawsuit alleged that the diocese was also culpable for what happened to the girl while she was staying at the dorm, especially after she divulged to a priest that she was being abused. Koury determined that there wasn’t enough evidence that the school had any contract or agreement with ACE Academy. And he said the information the priest received from the girl came during confession — a sacred exchange where clergy are absolved from exposing information.
Myerowitz noted that Pennsylvania law on the matter of priest-penitent communications provides wide protections for clergy. Though priests are required to report any abuse, the exception for priest-penitent communications creates a tricky gray area, Myerowitz said.
When the 14-year-old student told the priest about what was happening to her, Myerowitz said, she wasn’t doing so as a confession of her own deeds and therefore the information was not protected.
“She was a kid. She’s not qualified to know that what she’d say would not be told to anyone,” Myerowitz said. “She was the one being wronged. She was the one being abused. You as an adult have to protect her.”
Court records didn’t indicate whether the teen ever spoke to the priest outside of the confessional and Myerowitz said that’s what he intended to find out. The attorney said he was looking forward to the discovery phase of the case when he’d have an opportunity to interview the priest under oath and search for other evidence. But Koury’s ruling, made with prejudice, ensures Myerowitz won’t have such an opportunity.
“I do think there are other facts out there that would support this case,” Myerowitz said. “Part of the problem is the defendants have all the facts.”
Myerowitz said he’s considering whether he’ll appeal the case.
In the meantime, he said, he’s maintained close contact with the victim as she attends college in a different state and works to heal and grow.
“She’s moving on with her life the best she can,” Myerowitz said.
Full article: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/police/mc-allentown-diocese-korean-student-sexual-abused-pius-20150925-story.html