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Diocese of Allentown, Pa., sued in Delaware court

Woman alleges priest abused her in both states

By BETH MILLER * The News Journal * May 14, 2009

A Pennsylvania woman Wednesday filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown, Pa., in Superior Court of New Castle County, alleging child sexual abuse by a now-deceased Allentown, Pa., priest — some of which she says occurred when she lived in Smyrna.

The woman, Sharon Tell, claims the late Rev. James J. McHale started to abuse her in 1964, when she was a 12-year-old parishioner at Notre Dame of Bethlehem, Pa., where McHale was the parish priest. Tell’s family moved to Smyrna in 1966, according to the suit, and Tell says McHale often visited the Delaware home.

The abuse and intimidation continued into Tell’s adulthood — until 1984, the suit says.

Matt Kerr, spokesman for the Diocese of Allentown, issued a prepared statement.

“The Diocese has not seen a copy of this lawsuit and thus cannot comment specifically,” it said. “The allegations made in the lawsuit announced today are about incidents from at least 25 years ago and reference a priest who has been deceased for almost 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.

“This in no way detracts from the Diocese’s stated aim to prevent the abuse of children and youth and to respond quickly to meet the pastoral needs of those who have been abused in the past. The Diocese of Allentown has in place a comprehensive policy on the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. It includes reporting all allegations to civil authorities and a zero tolerance component.”

The lawsuit, filed by Wilmington attorney Tom Conaty and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeffrey Anderson, was filed under the provisions of Delaware’s 2007 Child Victim’s Act, which opened a two-year window during which cases that would otherwise have been barred by the statute of limitations could be filed.

Anderson, who has filed thousands of similar suits , said Tell came to him in 2002 hoping to file her complaint, but the statute of limitations had expired and she could not do so until Delaware passed its law.

The two-year period expires in July.