Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip:

Harrisburg Diocese Sued For Conspiracy, Fraud Related To Child Abuse

Katie Meyer
90.5 WESA
Attorney Richard Serbin (left) and Don Asbee (right) announce the lawsuit at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. David Clohessy, with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is at center.

A lawsuit has been filed against Harrisburg’s Roman Catholic diocese for covering up alleged brutal sexual abuse of a boy more than 40 years ago.

The statute of limitations on the case is long expired—but the attorney bringing the suit is trying a new tactic to get around that.

The basis for the suit dates back to 1960.

When Don Asbee was nine, he became an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Milton, about an hour and a half north of Harrisburg.

And then, he said, for more than three years he was groomed and brutally sexually assaulted by two priests—first Raymond Dougherty, and then Walter Sempko.

“He would use his power to subject me to excruciating rape,” Asbee said of Sempko.

He said he felt trapped.

At a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, he asked how a child can be expected to repel an assault when receiving “the message that that man up there on the altar, the one in the fancy dress, is your salvation broker.”

The two alleged perpetrators are dead now, and the statute of limitations is well-expired. It says victims have to pursue civil cases by the time they’re 30 and criminal ones by age 50.

But Asbee’s lawyer, Richard Serbin, said the abuse itself isn’t the focus of the lawsuit.

Instead, he’s arguing the Harrisburg diocese committed conspiracy and fraud to cover up Asbee’s case and others.

“You have to ask yourself, why is every diocese in the country dealing with child sex abuse?” he said. “The answer is, the coverup, the protection afforded to child predators.”

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer and former Bishop Kevin Rhoades are named as defendants.

Neither was involved in Asbee’s abuse, but Serbin said they’re complicit in failing to right the wrongs of the past.

“It’s an ongoing responsibility,” he said. “It has not stopped. It will not stop until there is total transparency.”

The diocese didn’t comment on the specifics of the suit, but in a statement said Gainer is profoundly sorry for people abused by members of the church.

It also noted that it’s reviewing claims for its compensation fund for abuse survivors.

Serbin said Asbee was offered $176,875 from the fund, which he rejected because he believed it insufficient given his years of abuse.

He said Vatican and the Harrisburg Diocese’s previous bishops are included as unnamed defendants in his suit because, he argues, they were all complicit in covering up the abuse as well.