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Jesuit seminarian, former PSU professor sexually abused boys in State College, lawsuits claim

Attorney announces two lawsuits that accuse church of covering-up sexual abuses

Attorney Richard Serbin announced two lawsuits that accused officials in the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese of intentionally concealing the sexual abuses, which allegedly occurred at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College.
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Attorney Richard Serbin announced two lawsuits that accused officials in the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese of intentionally concealing the sexual abuses, which allegedly occurred at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College.

Two boys were molested by a now-deceased Jesuit seminarian who assisted at a State College parish, according to two lawsuits filed Monday in Centre County.

The lawsuits accuse officials in the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese of intentionally concealing the abuses at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in State College from 1968 to 1971.

The men, only identified as John Doe, claimed they were regularly provided with alcohol and were sexually abused by Leonard Riforgiato. The boys were teenagers at the time, according to the lawsuits.

OLV deferred comment to diocese of Altoona-Johnstown communications secretary Tony DeGol, who said the diocese does not comment on pending litigation.

Riforgiato, a former Penn State Shenango Valley professor who involved himself with Centre County Children and Youth Services, was transplanted to Happy Valley from the U.S. Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus because of “sexual actions involving children, crimes to which he admitted,” attorney Richard Serbin wrote.

The boys and their families were befriended by Riforgiato, who took them to movie theaters, bowling alleys and restaurants. Those gestures were all part of the grooming process, Serbin said Tuesday during a press conference at County Inn and Suites in College Township.

“When Father Riforgiato admitted no later than 1969 to his Jesuit superiors that he had sexually molested children at McQuaid High School in Rochester, New York, they should have turned him in to the police,” Serbin said in a statement. “Instead, they provided him with a fresh hunting ground in Pennsylvania, which proved tragic for my clients.”

Richard Serbin
Attorney Richard Serbin announced two lawsuits at Country Inn and Suites in College Township on Tuesday. Bret Pallotto bpallotto@centredaily.com

One of the men died by suicide in 1992. He was 32. His suicide was directly related to the alleged sexual assaults, Serbin said.

“Tragically, a child that is sexually abused ... there is self-loathing, humiliation, embarrassment ... depression,” Serbin said. “As a result of these feelings, suicide is frequently on their mind.”

Riforgiato died in 1999. The surviving man, now 65, said he first became aware of the church’s “long history of protecting child predators at the expense of innocent and vulnerable children” about 20 years later, the lawsuit said.

In August 2018, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro released an 887-page grand jury report that accused church officials in six Pennsylvania dioceses of routinely placing their reputation before the welfare of children in their care.

“Until learning this information, plaintiff had no reason to believe that those individuals in the position of teaching him morality and religion were complicit in protecting child molesters and rapists, moving them from assignment to assignment and actively participating in the cover-up of crimes against children, including releasing false and mislead public statements,” Serbin wrote in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed the Jesuits and the diocese knew, or should have known, of Riforgiato’s deviant sexual interest in children before the man was allegedly molested, but systematically concealed that information, Serbin wrote.

The men are suing the diocese, among others, for conspiracy, fraud and constructive fraud. Serbin is seeking punitive damages and requested a jury trial.

“These practices ... created the misperception in the mind of the plaintiff and his family that he was safe with priests in general and with Riforgiato, in particular,” Serbin wrote. “And that if there was conduct about which plaintiff or plaintiff’s family might be concerned, it was an isolated instance of spurious conduct, when in fact the plaintiff was the victim of a known and preventable hazard that the defendants had created and allowed to continue.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.
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