By Natalie Pompilio
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Eight men and a woman publicly accused Roman Catholic priests and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday of child sex abuse, saying they found courage to come forward after the conviction in June of a top church official in the wide-ranging pedophilia scandal.
The nine filed civil lawsuits accusing the Archdiocese and church officials of conspiring to conceal incidents of sex abuse, failing to address the problem and ignoring complaints about abusive clergy, according to attorneys who announced the cases at a news conference in Philadelphia.
Problems with abusive priests in the Philadelphia diocese had been flagged in a 2003 grand jury report that found church leaders failed to report abuse to authorities. These lawsuits cite alleged abuse dating back to 1970.
The alleged victims opted to come forward after the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, a top official found guilty of covering up sex abuse allegations, often by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes, said Marci Hamilton, an attorney in the case.
The alleged victims were children who attended Roman Catholic schools and churches in the Philadelphia area, where they say in the lawsuits they were molested and assaulted by priests and that their complaints went unheeded.
One of the plaintiffs, Andrew Druding of Philadelphia, spoke at the news conference about his abuse in the early 1970s, allegedly at the hands of a priest who directed a choir at a church where his parents were married and he had been baptized.
"You took advantage of a 9-year-old boy who loved to sing and was afraid to tell because you were a priest, God's messenger on Earth, the most holy person in my life," he said.
"This is my opportunity, to an extent, to fight back," he said, as his wife of 28 years, Denise, wept.
In a statement, the Archdiocese said it had not seen copies of the lawsuits.
"We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse," the statement said. "We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance."
The lawsuits collectively seek nearly $2 million in damages and name Lynn, seven priests and former priests, the Archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired as archbishop in 2011.
The sweeping sex abuse scandal has cost billions in settlements and driven prominent U.S. dioceses into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Archdiocese already faces several civil lawsuits claiming abuse and faces legal costs estimated at more than $11 million.
Lynn, the highest-ranking church official to be convicted in the scandal, was sentenced to three to six years in prison in July. He acted as secretary of the clergy, overseeing 800 priests in the Archdiocese of 1.5 million members, the nation's sixth largest.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh)