Man sues Allentown diocese, Northampton church and school, claiming priest molested him when he was 11

A 57-year-old Pennsylvania man who claims that he was molested by a Catholic priest from a Northampton church starting when he was 11 years old, has filed a lawsuit, one of numerous claims recently made under a potential loophole in the statute of limitations for civil cases involving sexual abuse.

The plaintiff, identified as Joe Doe in the suit filed Wednesday in Lehigh County Court, claims that he was sexually abused in the 1970s and early 1980s by the Rev. Thomas Kerestus, who served at Our Lady of Hungary Roman Catholic Church, now called Queenship of Mary Roman Catholic Church.

Also named in the suit are Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in Northampton, which later became Good Shepherd Catholic School, and the Diocese of Allentown.

Kerestus, who died in 2014, was one of about 300 clergy members identified in a 2018 statewide grand jury report on predator priests.

In the suit, Doe claims that Kerestus befriended his family after his parents divorced and took him on overnight trips to Kerestus’ parents’ Tamaqua home, the parish rectory and the Jersey Shore. During the trips, Doe said in the suit, Kerestus sexually assaulted him.

The plaintiff said that for years he was too afraid to tell anyone about the abuse.

“Further, he had been taught from infancy to respect and obey all Catholic priests,” the suit states.

Doe said the sex assaults did not stop until he turned 18, and led him to abuse drugs and alcohol, and suffer behavioral problems and poor self-esteem as an adult. He is demanding a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.

Allentown Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said diocese lawyers had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and that he could not comment on it.

Kerr noted that Doe’s allegations date to before Bishop Alfred Schlert, the current head of the diocese, was ordained. He said the bishop has always taken “swift action” to identify accused priests from the church and alert law enforcement.

“As early as 2002, the Diocese of Allentown convened a meeting of the district attorneys of the five counties in the Diocese and voluntarily turned over the personnel files of every accused priest — including Father Kerestus — and also voluntarily complied will all requests for information from the grand jury,” Kerr said.

The allegations come long after the statute of limitations for people seeking civil recourse for sexual assaults in childhood. Doe’s attorneys are relying on a potential loophole created in August by the state Superior Court, which allowed a similar lawsuit to proceed. It was based on new information from a 2016 grand jury report on the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.

In that ruling, a three-judge panel allowed a woman’s lawsuit against the diocese to proceed even though it was filed well beyond the statute of limitations, which gives a person until their 30th birthday to file a civil case alleging abuse from childhood.

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