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'70s altar boy alleges abuse & that Krol abetted cover-up

A former altar boy for the late Cardinal John Krol filed a lawsuit yesterday alleging that he was sexually abused by two priests in the 1970s.

A former altar boy for the late Cardinal John Krol filed a lawsuit yesterday alleging that he was sexually abused by two priests in the 1970s.

The lawsuit makes no allegation of sexual misconduct by the Philadelphia archbishop, who died in 1996, but does contend that Krol blithely ignored the accusations.

Lawyers for Steven B. Souder, 47, of Philadelphia, filed the suit in Asheville, N.C., against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and a now-retired Philadelphia priest.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks damages for emotional and physical abuse, Souder was a student at Roman Catholic High School and an altar boy for Krol when he met three men who sexually abused him: Father John McCole of Philadelphia, who is now retired; Father Justin Pechulis, of Asheville, now deceased; and an unidentified man.

The complaint alleges that McCole and Pechulis forced Souder to engage in group oral sex with them while the unidentified man masturbated nearby.

"This lawsuit is a demonstration of the participation at the highest level - of up to and including the bishop and perhaps higher - in the systematic cover-up of child abuse," said Jay Abramowitch, a Berks County attorney representing Souder.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell declined to comment, saying she had not seen the lawsuit.

In a telephone interview with the Daily News yesterday, Mc-Cole acknowledged that he had known Souder, but denied the allegations.

"He [Souder] accused me of improper sexual abuse before . . . but the diocese investigated it and said it was baseless," McCole said.

"I was friendly with him," he said, "but I'm really shocked by this accusation. . . . I would never do anything like that."

In the lawsuit, Souder claims that after sexually abusing him on "multiple occasions," McCole took him one summer in the late '70s to the rectory of the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, where McCole introduced him to Pechulis.

McCole acknowledged knowing Pechulis but said he had no memory of taking Souder to Asheville. "I don't remember that at all," McCole said.

According to the complaint, Krol dismissed the accusations, telling Souder "that he [Souder] was not being touched inappropriately. . . . 'That's just how men behave with each other.' "

Souder approached Abramo-witch in 2007, after he began having flashbacks, the lawyer said. The complaint alleges that Souder had been "mentally ill" and had repressed his memories of the incident until 2007.

"In North Carolina, the courts recognize a statute - that if someone suffers a repressed memory, and if that is proved through psychiatric test, that period of time . . . does not count against the statute of limitations," Abramowitch said.

"It's obvious from the systematic manner of the abuse, and levels of participation . . . that [for] the archdiocese to be taking the position that it didn't have knowledge [of the abuses] is preposterous," he said.