Judge Sends Priest-Abuse Lawsuit to Trial
Ex-Salesianum Student Accuses Principal
By Beth Miller
News Journal [Delaware]
December 7, 2006
A Superior Court judge Wednesday ruled that a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a former principal of Salesianum School may go to trial.
The ruling gives former Salesianum student Eric Eden a rare opportunity to present evidence to a Delaware jury and try to prove his allegations that a priest sexually abused him. Most such allegations have not made it to court -- criminal or civil -- because of Delaware's statutes of limitations.
Judge Calvin L. Scott Jr. ruled that Eden could not sue for a 1985 incident he reported to his parents because Delaware's two-year civil statute of limitations had expired. But, Scott ruled, Eden can sue for the 900 incidents he did not report because, according to a psychiatrist's report, Eden had repressed the memory of those alleged assaults until clergy sexual abuse emerged as a national scandal in 2002.
Eden's suit, filed in 2004, alleges that the Rev. James W. O'Neill molested Eden, formerly Eric Mazzetti, twice a week from 1976 to 1985. The alleged abuse sometimes happened at the private Catholic school, sometimes at the Mazzetti home when O'Neill said he was tutoring the boy and during a family vacation.
Scott's ruling does not mean the allegations are true, but it does mean that evidence now can be presented to a Delaware jury.
Eden's attorney Thomas S. Neuberger said his client was "very, very happy" with the ruling.
"My client will now be able to obtain legal relief from a jury of 12 men and women for the unspeakable crimes committed on his person, the wreckage of his ruined life and full punishment for this worldwide conspiracy to endanger children," Neuberger said.
Neuberger said the case is Delaware's first repressed-memory pedophile case, and said he now expects to file more.
Mark Reardon, attorney for Salesianum and the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, the religious order that oper-ates the school, said Wednesday he had not yet spoken with his clients and could not comment on their reaction.
"By no means do we view this as a defeat," he said. "We expect that the discovery process will confirm that the incidents the plaintiff has alleged and recently recalled from 20 years ago did not happen or did not happen the way he now recalls," Reardon said.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Eden's case is rare.
"We're grateful that Eric has the strength and courage and ability to expose in court an abusive priest and a complicit bishop," Clohessy said. "Few victims have that opportunity and even fewer are emotionally able to pursue criminal or civil action. And we are grateful that this judge, like many across the country, appreciates that some horrific childhood trauma is repressed and that victims can't be expected to take immediate action if they don't even know they've been victimized."
The problem of clergy sexual abuse has made news again in Delaware since October, when a former Delaware priest was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., for sexually abusing a teen there. Because of concern that other accused priests might pose a continuing danger, Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli last month released the names and former assignments of 20 priests he said had substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them. None remain in active ministry, church officials say. Eight are dead.
Saltarelli did not release the names of religious order priests, such as O'Neill. The allegations against O'Neill emerged after Eden filed suit. The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have no plan to release names of other accused priests, attorney Vincent Morrison said Wednesday.
Only Saltarelli was dismissed by Scott from Eden's suit against Salesianum, because Saltarelli did not become bishop until 1996. The bishop who was in office at the time of the alleged abuse is dead. Scott refused to dismiss the school, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales or the Diocese of Wilmington from the suit.
According to the lawsuit, Eden told his parents of the abuse in 1985 and they confronted church and school officials. Eden alleges that the Oblates made an agreement with Eden's parents that O'Neill would be removed permanently from youth-related ministry, sent for treatment and would have no further contact with the Mazzettis. In exchange, they would not report the allegations.
Instead, O'Neill was reassigned to Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pa., and later to the pastorate of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Greensboro, N.C.
A spokesman for the order told The News Journal in 2004 that no agreement was made to sequester O'Neill.
The jury will decide whether church officials breached a contract.
Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.