Sharon Tell said she has repeatedly told the Diocese of Allentown that she was molested by the Rev. James J. McHale, but was turned away.
"They just swept it under the carpet," the Millersville, Pa., woman said during a news conference today outside the diocese building in Allentown. "All those years of saying, 'No, he didn't do anything wrong, it's you, he didn't do anything wrong."
Tell, 56, has filed a sex abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Allentown, which employed McHale until his death in 1997.
Spokesman Matt Kerr said the current diocese administration had no knowledge of Tell's allegations until recently.
"The diocese has not seen a copy of this lawsuit and thus cannot comment specifically," a statement released this afternoon says.
The statement notes that the suit references incidents that occurred 25 years ago involving a priest who has been dead 12 years.
"While the Diocese of Allentown regrets that any person may have
been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of any cleric, the Diocese does reserve its right to defend itself against the charges in this lawsuit," the statement says.
Tell, who was surrounded by family and friends today, claims McHale molested her from 1964 to 1984 in at least six states, and during a trip to Rome where they met the pope.
Tell attended the Notre Dame parish in Bethlehem as a child, but moved to Smyrna, Del., in 1966. She said the abuse continued after she moved because McHale remained close with the family and often visited and took her on trips.
The suit, filed in New Castle Superior Court in Delaware, can only pertain to incidents that occurred in that state.
Tell said she was conditioned by McHale to accept the abuse well into adulthood, and that she only had the ability to start speaking out after suffering a mental breakdown in the 1980s.
In Delaware, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims was two years after the victim turned 18, said Jeffrey Anderson, one of Tell's attorneys.
But in 2007, a law was passed creating a two-year window in which victims could bring civil action in cases previously barred by the current statute, he said. The window is open until July 2009.
The diocese is committed to preventing the abuse of children and responding quickly to meet the pastoral needs of victims with the help of a victim assistance coordinator, the statement says.
In addition to criminal background checks, diocese clergy, lay personnel and volunteers must abide by a code of conduct, the statement says. They've also been trained on how to prevent, recognize and respond to child abuse.