Two civil lawsuits have been filed by men claiming to have been sexually abused by a now-deceased Jesuit priest who taught at Penn State Shenango for decades.

The lawsuits allege that the late Rev. Leonard R. Riforgiato sexually abused two children between 1968 and 1971 while assigned to Our Lady of Victory parish in State College, Pa., under the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. One of the men, labeled as John Doe 2, took his own life in 1992.

The lawsuits were filed against the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the Rev. Joseph Riley, current Bishop Mark Bartchak and the two bishops preceding him.

“(Riforgiato) taught at Penn State and involved himself with children and youth programs,” said Attorney Richard M. Serbin, who filed the lawsuits. “I know there were kids molested because he was a serial predator. Not only did he molest around age 14, but he provided them with alcohol. He was a bad apple.”

Riforgiato taught at Penn State Shenango in Sharon for 27 years until his death in January 1999. While at the university, he won the school’s inaugural Teacher of the Year award in 1984.

After Riforgiato’s death, Penn State Shenango named its teacher of the year award in his memory until the honor was discontinued after 2018.

Wyatt DuBois, assistant director for Penn State’s office of strategic communications, said the university received two complaints relating to this matter, one in March and the other in April.

“The university immediately reported both to Pennsylvania ChildLine and University Police,” DuBois stated in an email.

Penn State officials made no further comment.

According to the lawsuits, Riforgiato was assigned by the Jesuits to McQuaid High School in Rochester, N.Y., as a religion and history teacher from 1964 to 1966. He was transferred from his teaching position because of his sexual actions involving children, crimes to which he admitted.

Before serving at Penn State Shenango, he was assigned to Penn State University in State College along with Riley, who was supposed to live with Riforgiato and supervise him because of his history of sex crimes against children, according to the lawsuit. 

The victim in the first lawsuit, known in the legal documents as John Doe, was born in June 1954 and is now 65. He attended Our Lady of Victory School in State College.

According to the first lawsuit filed, beginning at the age of 14, John Doe was repeatedly sexually assaulted, while intoxicated, by Riforgiato, a Jesuit seminarian. The sexual assault culminated with his rape.

The victim who filed the first lawsuit came from a family that was struggling financially and Riforgiato began a grooming process, which included buying the victim clothes, taking him and his friends to entertainment activities and allowed the victim to use the priest’s car once he turned 16, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit includes an accusation that Riforgiato of winning the victim’s family members’ trust by taking them to dinner. They then allowed the victim to stay overnight at Riforgiato’s apartment.

The second lawsuit has been filed by Charlene Henry, administrator of the estate of a victim known in the legal documents as John Doe 2, who is deceased. 

John Doe 2 died June 6, 1992, at age 32 after taking his own life. He is not being identified because he was a child when, the lawsuit claims, Riforgiato sexually abused him.

The victim was born in 1958 and attended Our Lady of Victory School from first to fifth grades and attended Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church with his family, including times when Riley and Riforgiato led services.

John Doe 2 was an altar boy and volunteered at the church.

According to the second lawsuit, the victim met Riforgiato when the priest visited his family’s home. The lawsuit alleges Riforgiato began a grooming process, including buying clothes, taking him out to eat and paying for leisure activities.

Riforgiato became a frequent visitor to the second victim’s home. The parents trusted the priest, and allowed the victim to stay overnight at Riforgiato’s apartment he shared with Riley.

Riforgiato provided John Doe 2 and his friends with alcohol and cigarettes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Riforgiato took advantage of the second victim’s young age, immaturity, trust and consumption of alcohol to sexually assault him. 

The second victim admitted to family members and friends that he was sexually molested by Riforgiato. One specific instance of sexual activity was observed by one of his friends at a drive-in theater, according to the lawsuit.

After Riforgiato left the State College area, John Doe 2 visited him at his apartment in Sharon, where Riforgiato had obtained his teaching position at Penn State Shenango.

The lawsuits allege that the other parties had knowledge of the abuse of children by its clerics, including Riforgiato.

Serbin said he believes Riforgiato abused more than just his two clients. He also said that another client of his was abused by Riforgiato but has not filed a lawsuit.

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com

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