Father Richard Lelonis
Diocese of Pittsburgh
Suspended: Nov. 2018
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations against Father Richard Lelonis:
Father Richard Lelonis was ordained a priest in 1971, who served in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. According to media reports, he was suspended from ministry in September 2018, when two male relatives contacted the Diocese to report child sexual abuse by Lelonis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lelonis was assigned to St. Luke in Carnegie and St. Mary Mercy in Pittsburgh at the time.
Lelonis was removed from his position in the diocesan chancery about a week after the initial reports, and after a preliminary investigation led Diocese officials to conclude the men’s allegations were credible. However, Lelonis’ name appeared on the Diocese of Pittsburgh website as Director of Matrimonial Concerns until mid-November 2018.
In November 2018, the local Pittsburgh CBS affiliate, KDKA-TV, reported in that Lelonis is one of eight Pittsburgh priests whose name has been redacted from the 2018 grand jury report for privacy reasons. If that information is correct, then:
- Lelonis has been accused (by what would be a third man) of sexually abusing a boy that he met through an involvement with the child’s family. The victim alleges that he was plied with alcohol and pornography, and eventually the priest began performing oral sex upon him once a month over a period of years.
- When the child was 15 or 16, he told the priest (which KDKA claims is Lelonis) that he wanted the sexual contact to stop, at which point the priest became violent and physically abusive. In addition to threatening to kill the boy, he told the boy that he would tell his parents that the boy was gay.
- It appears from the unredacted portions of the report that the priest (that KDKA says is Lelonis) was then sent for a psychological evaluation and treatment after first being confronted with the allegations, with a promise to return to full-time ministry after his discharge.
- The timeline of the report and referral to treatment has been redacted from the report, as has the age of the victim when the abuse began and the years he says that it went on. A later news story says the man made his report to the Diocese in 2002.
- The priest was returned to ministry, according to the redacted grand jury report, until the depth of the public scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston became regular national news in 2002. At that time, the Diocese of Pittsburgh restricted the priest’s faculties.
- By the end of 2002, the Diocese of Pittsburgh had formed an internal review board, which was presented with the allegation. The victim, when given an opportunity to appear before the board, stated that he had not foreclosed the idea of filing a lawsuit for what happened. Suddenly, the Diocese of Pittsburgh set out to ruin the accuser’s credibility; the review board was provided with a police report “from a friend [of the Diocese] in law enforcement” that involved the accuser. Suddenly, the review board doubted the man’s credibility and recommended that the priest (that KDKA has identified as Lelonis) be returned to “non-parochial ministry,” without access to children, given his admission to the review board “of his attraction to minors,” referring to the priest’s admitted sexual attraction to children.
- Consistent with the review board recommendation, the priest was re-assigned to non-parish ministry working in the Chancery office. Lelonis has worked as the Director of Matrimonial Concerns for the Diocese of Pittsburgh since leaving St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in 2002.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh removed Lelonis pending an internal investigation. In November 2019, the Diocese quietly announced that its internal review board determined that at least one allegation of sexual abuse was determined to be credible after investigation.
In December 2018, Lelonis was named in a civil lawsuit filed by a 58 year old North Carolina man who says that Lelonis sexually abused him at St. Luke parish, where he attended grammar school and served as an altar boy. He says the abuse lasted from ages 8-12, and included fondling, masturbation, and oral copulation.
Lelonis died in October 2019, before the allegation of abuse against him was determined to be credible. He remained suspended from ministry at the time of his death, according to the Diocese.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Pennsylvania, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh may have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so do not delay in reaching out to us.