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ALTOONA-JOHNSTOWN Priest sues own diocese, alleging abuse



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The accused priest died almost two years ago.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest is suing his own diocese, saying he was sexually abused as a teen by a now-deceased priest who taught at his high school.

The Rev. John Nesbella alleges that he was abused more than 25 years ago, when he was 16, at a rectory operated by the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, the diocese said in a statement.

Nesbella says he was abused by the Rev. Martin Brady, his teacher at Bishop Carroll in Ebensburg, according to lawyer Richard Serbin, who represents Nesbella. Brady died March 19, 2003, the diocese said.

Difficult investigation

"Having one of our priests be a litigant against his own diocesan church and diocesan bishop presents us with a number of difficulties," Bishop Joseph Adamec said in the statement. He said it could be difficult for the diocese to conduct a thorough investigation and for Nesbella to be an effective minister.

"The fact that the accused is deceased makes it next to impossible to confirm the allegation," Adamec said.

Serbin said he filed suit this week against the diocese, Bishop Joseph Adamec and former Bishop James Hogan, but has not yet filed a detailed complaint.

He declined to elaborate on his client's claims.

"At this point, I'm just going to allow the diocese to put those facts out there," Serbin said. "What is in there [the statement] is accurate."

Clergy abuse claims by active or former priests are unusual but not unprecedented, according to David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

SNAP knows of several dozen priests who say they were sexually abused by priests as children.

However, it is rare for such a victim to sue, Clohessy said.

"It takes a lot of courage for an abuse victim to come forward, and I think that's even harder to do when you're a priest," Serbin said.

Nesbella, who was ordained on May 11, 2002, has served at St. Mary's in Altoona, Holy Name in Ebensburg and Prince of Peace in Northern Cambria.

Placed on leave

He was placed on leave of absence Friday, Adamec said.

Adamec said he has met with Nesbella about the allegations, despite being a named defendant in his suit. He invited Nesbella to use the diocesan's victim's advocate and allegation review board, he said.

Adamec said he regrets that Nesbella did not raise the allegations earlier.

Serbin said that other former and current priests have told him that were abused by priests, but he has never filed this type of suit.

Serbin has sued several dioceses in Pennsylvania for clients alleging clergy abuse.

In May, the Altoona-Johnstown diocese agreed to pay $3.7 million to settle abuse claims by 21 people Serbin represented.




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