Court Gavel

A woman who alleges a teacher at the former St. Hilary Elementary School groped and assaulted her during the 1970s filed suit in Washington County Court against the local parish and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The plaintiff, who is identified only by the initials D.M.K., did not name the teacher, who is called “John Doe” in the complaint.

Asked why the male teacher is anonymous, Pittsburgh attorney Aaron Rihn, who represents the alleged victim, said Wednesday, “It’s a complicated question. It depends a lot on our ability to investigate.”

Until a suit is actually filed, a victim does not have the legal “right to subpoena anything,” Rihn said, noting a recent state Superior Court ruling granted more flexibility to the statute of limitations on abuse that took place long ago.

This was the case of Renee Rice vs. the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which is now being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“Rice vs. Altoona diocese extends the discovery rule,” Rihn said. “Theoretically, the reasoning applies to all sexual assault cases throughout the commonwealth, or someone involved in a corporate coverup-type of conspiracy.”

In addition to abuse D.M.K. said she encountered while at school from 1974 to 1977, she alleged the teacher invited her to his home to help correct a younger student’s homework where she was also sexually assaulted.

She told her mother what occurred at the teacher’s home, according to the suit, “but had to beg her mother not to tell anyone because of ... guilt, shame and confusion.”

The teacher’s conduct recurred over the course of three years, and D.M.K. said she has suffered “mental anguish” requiring therapy since the 1990s, “as she has tried to cope with the effects that stem from the horrific assaults perpetrated by John Doe and the lack of protection from the parish and diocese, despite their knowledge of the assaults.”

She cited a lack of background checks at St. Hilary and its failure to provide a safe environment, and made a similar claim against the diocese.

The suit notes that the statewide grand jury report of Aug. 18, 2018, focused on sexual abuse by diocesan priests, but claimed there was a “systemic and intentional conspiracy to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, its parishes and all of its employees, including John Doe, at the expense of the plaintiff and other sexually and physically abused children.”

D.M.K. is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The school closed in 1997.

Ellen Mady, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh diocese, responded to a phone call about the case with an email.

“The diocese has not been served,” she wrote.

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