Lawsuit Accuses Priest Of Abusing 40 Children

CLEVELAND (AP) - A woman filed a lawsuit accusing a priest who killed himself in March of improperly touching her and 40 or more children at a city church in the mid-1980s.

The 25-year-old woman, identified only as "Jane Doe," sued the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, claiming it knew about the Rev. Donald Rooney's abuse and failed to stop him, The Plain Dealer reported.

She said Rooney (pictured, right) molested altar boys and altar girls in the basement of St. Patrick's Church.

The suit filed Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court asks for class-action status, which would entitle the students who may have been "fondled, molested or inappropriately touched" by Rooney to join as plaintiffs. It also names St. Patrick's Church as a defendant.

"The case isn't about money," Howard Schulman, the woman's lawyer, told the newspaper. "It's about giving a voice to victims of Father Rooney. Hopefully, that combined voice will lead to a change and this will never happen again."

The diocese declined to comment except to say that its lawyers were reviewing the suit.

Rooney, 48, shot himself in the head shortly after a woman told the diocese that he sexually abused her when she was a child. She said it happened at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Wadsworth in 1980, a year after Rooney's ordination.

The woman who filed suit says Rooney improperly touched her and about 20 other girls while they wore altar robes, saying he was fitting the garments.

The woman was told that a similar number of boys in the program to become altar boys had also been touched improperly during their robe fitting, Schulman said.

The woman informed a teacher about what had happened to her and the other girls and when nothing was done she tried unsuccessfully to organize the girls to boycott the altar-girl program, according to the suit.

Last week, a San Francisco woman sued Rooney's estate and the diocese for $10 million, alleging that he groped and kissed her.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)