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Former priest files defamation suit

YOUNGSTOWN — Former priest William B. Smaltz of Youngstown and his wife, Noreen, filed suit against the Diocese of Youngstown on Tuesday alleging defamation after the Diocese included Smaltz’s name on a list of priests it called “credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.”

The Diocese released the list to the public Oct. 30, 2018, and various news outlets published articles on it.

In May, however, the Diocese said it was removing Smaltz’s name from the list after further investigation and additional information indicated that the earlier allegations against Smaltz are “no longer deemed to be credible,” according to Vindicator files.

The suit was filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and is assigned to Judge Anthony D’Apolito.

Over his time as priest, Smaltz was assigned to St. Edward Parish in Youngstown, St. Mary Parish in Massillon, Our Lady of Lourdes in East Palestine and St. Mary Parish in Conneaut, the Diocese has said.

The suit states that Smaltz was ordained a priest in 1956 and served in the Catholic Church 18 years. He received dispensation to leave the priesthood and got married. He and his wife had four children, the suit states.

The Diocese conducted an investigation of claims regarding priests sexually abusing minors but failed to interview Smaltz when the accuser “made inconsistent and vague claims concerning him,” the suit states.

Another priest who was serving the same parish as Smaltz has been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct, the suit states. It is likely that the accuser “confused” that priest with Smaltz, the suit adds.

“Despite inconsistencies and lack of investigation, the (diocese) claimed that the witness’s statements were credible,” according to the suit.

The suit, filed by attorney Elizabeth Bernard, alleges the statements were published “with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not.”

The statements the diocese released about Smaltz damaged his reputation and caused severe emotional distress and emotional injury, and the suit says his wife suffered loss of companionship, consortium and and services of William Smaltz because of the actions of the diocese.

The suit seeks damages of $25,000 or more.

Monsignor John Zuraw, chancellor for the diocese, said in May that after the original list came out, Smaltz provided the diocese with information that was later determined to be “convincing evidence” that the charges against him were not credible.

Zuraw said the diocese had not been able to reach Smaltz until Smaltz contacted the diocese.

A message left for Zuraw Tuesday afternoon regarding the lawsuit was not immediately returned.

The original list contained the names of 31 priests who served in the diocese over its 75-year history with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against them, The Vindicator has reported.

More than 1,000 priests and other religious leaders have served the diocese since its founding in 1943.

Former Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry, who died in April, said in 2018 that 76 victim allegations had been investigated, and more than $500,000 in settlements had been paid to victims.

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