Ed Rodgers, left, and Jim VanSickle address a group in front of St. Bernard Catholic Church offices in Bradford, talking about the abuse they suffered when both were students at Bradford Central Christian High School in the 1980s.

For 30 years, Bradford’s Ed Rodgers has been waiting to see justice for the sexual abuse he says he suffered while attending school at Bradford Central Christian.

Thanks to a recent change in Pennsylvania law, on Tuesday, Rodgers was able to file suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Erie Diocese and Bishops Donald Trautman and Lawrence Persico.

A spokesperson for the diocese on Wednesday said only, “The Diocese of Erie does not comment on litigation.”

The suit, filed in McKean County Court, alleges fraud, conspiracy, constructive fraud and negligence on the parts of the diocese and its bishops for covering up sexual abuse — like that which Rodgers says he suffered from 1987 to 1990 by two priests, Michael Amy and Desmond McGee — and for moving predator priests around to different churches instead of intervening to protect children.

Rodgers is represented by Harrisburg attorney Jason Duncan and Lancaster attorney Nicholas Wachinski.

“From having met and talked with Ed, I’m aware of how much pain this has caused him over the years, and how he looked for ways to finally get justice in this matter,” Duncan said. “The biggest thing Ed has always expressed to me is just how much he felt alone.”

In fact, that’s the biggest reason Rodgers wants to move forward with the suit — to shed light on the abuse, to let other survivors know they aren’t alone and to prevent another child from having to deal with the horrors he experienced, the attorneys explained.

“For too many years, those who perpetrated the abuse were able to hide behind the nuances of the law,” Wachinski said.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released an investigative grand jury report in 2018, naming predator priests and detailing years of cover-ups and the shuffling of abusive priests around the diocese after an accusation of abuse. That led to changes in state laws to help victims, including the ability to sue the church.

The attorneys spoke about the hardships Rodgers has endured through the years, as he came forward to publicly accuse McGee years ago. He faced scorn, ridicule, anger and hatred from the community.

“Ed’s been consistent since the beginning to try to make people understand what was done to him,” Wachinski said, adding the accusations in the lawsuit will be proven as the litigation continues.

“What has changed in Ed’s life, as deeply hurt as he was by the community scorning him, he’s turned that weakness into a strength,” Duncan said, “knowing he is helping others by coming forward himself and making sure the truth gets out there.”

Wachinski said the scorn and rejection was “largely based on the comments made by the church and the church leaders.”

He added, “This man, Ed Rodgers, has been put through absolute hell. He had the temerity and thoughtfulness to come forward, and they turned their backs on him and ignored it.”

Yet he stands by his story, and wants to do what he can to make sure another child won’t suffer as he did.

“This is not an attack on the institution. This is not an attack on the religious. This is not an attack on the core beliefs,” Wachinski stressed. “This is about what happened to these children. We want to be able to get through this so the institution can heal. The community can heal. The victims can heal.”

According to the suit, McGee was principal at the school when he first met Rodgers, who was 14. Beginning in the fall of 1987 and continuing until January 1990, “McGee used his position of trust as both school principal and priest to abuse (Rodgers) sexually. Over the course of time, the abuse increased in severity, gradually worsening from sexual misconduct to sexual abuse to sexual assault and ultimately rape.”

The suit stated that the abuse occurred in the school, at the parish home where McGee lived and in McGee’s car, and took place on “hundreds of occasions” beginning when Rodgers was 14.

In the fall of 1988, when Rodgers was 15, McGee “introduced Amy to his sexual abuse” of Rodgers. On no less than six occasions, Amy joined McGee in “gang rape” of Rodgers, which the suit noted was “especially brutal and degrading,” and including penetrating the child with foreign objects, the suit stated.

When the Pennsylvania Investigative Grand Jury released its report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, it came to light that the first time the issue of Amy’s sexual interest in children was raised was 1974 — and yet he was still permitted to finish Seminary and was assigned to five places in 10 years before arriving at Central Christian, the suit noted.

Amy was laicized — kicked out of the priesthood — in 1993.

During the time he was a priest, Rodgers’ lawsuit alleges, the defendants covered up Amy’s actions and intervened to prevent him from being criminally charged, which “afforded him access to children” and “facilitated his sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape of children.”

The defendants “knew from experience that priests who seek sexual gratification from children would inevitably continue to use their positions as priests and teachers to engage in illegal, immoral and harmful acts with children.” Yet, despite that knowledge, they continued to transfer priests to new locations, “allowing more and more children to be sexually molested,” the suit stated.

It was a deliberate scheme, the suit alleged, to conceal the danger of these predator priests to protect its own reputation and financial interests.

Rodgers is seeking damages in the suit, but no specific amount is listed.

“Anybody who has ever met Ed can tell you the money means nothing to him,” Duncan said. “He’s all about making sure the abuse comes out. The value to him is the truth coming out.”

Wachinski agreed. “It’s about helping people heal and move forward. The concept of money is how our system works. We don’t have the power to bring a criminal case against these people.

“We are going to seek justice for Ed and this is one of the ways we can do it.”

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