PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Michael Smith says he was 11 or 12 and a ward of the state when he was staying at Holy Family Institute.
Not long after arriving, he was encouraged to become an altar boy. In a lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court, Smith says while he was there, he was abused by Father Joseph Girdis and Father Larry Smith.
It was the early 70s, and as a boy, Michael Smith didn’t know if anyone else was being abused.
“This happened over quite some time and he was threatened by the church not to tell anyone and was told he’d have eternal damnation, and that was serious to him,” said Smith’s attorney David Matthews.
So Smith kept his secret until he was watching Attorney General Josh Shapiro last year name the priests across the state accused of abuse.
He simply could not believe that Father Girdis and Father Smith were not on the list.
The Pittsburgh Diocese says in a statement to KDKA:
“To our knowledge, the diocese is not aware of any past allegations against either Fr. Smith or Fr. Girdis.”
Attorney Matthews says, “We have filed discovery in this case and we will determine what the church knew — if there were other victims, and what the church knew and when they knew it.”
He says in addition to the lawsuit, Matthews says a police report has also been filed so the police can investigate for possible criminal charges.
Father Girdis died in 2003. Father Smith retired in 2015, but still has his position as a priest in the diocese.
However, the diocese says Father Smith won’t be engaging in public ministry until the issue is resolved.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Regional Leader Judy Jones says, “He needs to be removed especially while this investigation is going on.”
“And we urge anybody who may have knowledge of or been harmed either by Father Smith or Father Girdis, please come forward and contact law enforcement.”
The Pittsburgh Diocese says it has reached out several times to “the accuser in question” asking for sufficient information so an allegation can be recognized and a process can begin but has gotten no response.
Smith says no one has reached out to him and at this point, his attorney is telling him not to talk to anyone.
While the lawsuit asks for punitive and compensatory damages, Smith says he wants an acknowledgement by the diocese of what happened to him and an apology.