Del. Man Claims Abuse by Priest Who Died in '93

By Beth Miller
The News Journal
May 18, 2009

A civil suit filed against the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and Salesianum School last month in Superior Court claims sexual abuse by a now-deceased principal of Salesianum, the second Sallies principal to be named in an abuse suit since 2004.

The suit, filed by a 43-year-old Sussex County man under the name "John GR Doe," claims the Rev. Richard Grant sexually abused him from 1982-84. Grant has not been named in any other court filing.

In commenting on the suit, the Rev. James Greenfield -- who as provincial is the top official of the religious order -- expressed continuing sorrow over any abuse that may have occurred. He said he learned May 13, after a question from The News Journal, that Grant had AIDS when he died in 1993 of lymphoma in Florida, where he was serving as an associate pastor of a parish.

Greenfield was not available to speak with The News Journal, but issued a prepared statement, expressing his sorrow and an "urgent responsibility to help bring healing to John Doe, a man who claims to have been abused by [Grant]. I also see a responsibility to respect the life of the person who has died, even though there is a possibility that he caused great pain and suffering to a young man.

"Sharing this private news in a public forum is obviously challenging, for I fear that people may make unfounded judgments against a dead man who cannot defend himself, a right we all have," the statement said. "It is my hope that offering this information will help the larger and necessary process of healing, for healing and restorative justice are the goals of all of these efforts and my ministry as the leader of the Oblates."

A 1993 obituary in The News Journal notes that Grant died of cancer and was living in Florida to care for his disabled sister.

In an interview with The News Journal, Doe said he was tested for HIV/AIDS after he learned of the priest's diagnosis years ago. He does not have the potentially fatal virus.

More than a dozen suits have been filed against the Oblates and several of their priests since Delaware adopted its 2007 Child Victim's Act, which eliminated the civil statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse and opened a two-year window during which previously barred cases could be filed. That period ends in July.

Unlike the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, which in 2006 released the names of 20 diocesan priests against whom there were credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, the Oblates have declined to release such a list. The diocese last month also gave a full accounting of claims it has settled, the cost of those settlements, the cost of legal fees and the cases it still faces. The Oblates have said such accountings "are not part of our custom."

In a prepared statement, Greenfield said, "This lawsuit continues to speak to the intense suffering that is felt when someone is sexually abused. If our members are responsible for causing it -- even if it is a long time in the past, we are responsible for healing such pain. This newest suit prompts me to repeat an important belief I hold as a priest and church leader: If these allegations are true, we will offer our full apology to the victims because healing is essential to justice, and sexual abuse is wrong and cannot be tolerated."

It began with a suggestion

Doe had frequent contact with the Oblates, who were involved in the Elkton, Md., parish he grew up in and taught a religion class at his Catholic school. It was his family's assumption that, after finishing grade school, he and his three younger brothers would attend Salesianum School.

In his junior year, Doe started to think about becoming an Oblate himself. And that is the year Grant -- then the academic dean at Sallies -- started to invite him to the faculty house, where they would meet, go out for dinner and do other things socially. Sometimes their meetings were after school, sometimes on weekends, Doe said.

The abuse started on a day Grant met him and said he hadn't showered yet, Doe said. Grant suggested they both go to the school and shower before going out. Doe thought the suggestion was odd, but agreed to do so.

"People need to understand we looked at these men as someone who made us better," Doe said. "... I was uncomfortable, but I didn't want him to think I didn't trust him."

In the shower, the molestation started, Doe said, and it continued throughout his remaining time at Salesianum -- in the faculty house, in a TV studio, on trips.

"In my senior year, the principal -- Father O'Neill -- started calling me the pet name Dick Grant had given me. And I think he [O'Neill] knew," Doe said.

The Rev. James W. O'Neill last year settled an abuse suit filed by another Salesianum student.

Doe threw himself into volunteer work with the religion department, helping with retreats, decorating bulletin boards. He graduated from Salesianum in 1984 and won the school's prestigious Provincial Medal of Honor that year.

Sordid scenarios described

Meanwhile, O'Neill was transferred in 1986 to a Philadelphia school run by the Oblates. Grant became Salesianum's new principal and stayed there until 1992, when he was assigned to the Florida parish.

Doe enrolled in the Oblates' seminary in Allentown, Pa., after graduating from Salesianum. He described several sordid sexual scenarios he witnessed at the school and said he was in his second year there, trying to deal with his father's grave illness, when another priest propositioned him. Doe said he left the facility in the middle of the night, drove back to his home in Maryland and never resumed his studies.

Doe said he believes his faith has helped him survive the events.

"But I realized if I don't leave I will end up like them," he said.

Doe later became an educator, a youth program leader and director of a nonprofit agency.

Doe says Grant was his spiritual director during part of his time at seminary and he says he loved the priest. But what he did to him was wrong, he said.

"I've gone to his grave and prayed for him and tried to forgive him," Doe said.

Last month, he got a call from attorney Mike Reck, who was researching a case for another Salesianum alumnus. During the conversation, Doe explained his experience and decided he, too, should take legal action to bring the abuse to light and urge the Oblates to acknowledge the damage done by Grant.

"It would be much easier for them to disclose this than for me to do it for them," said Reck, of San Diego-based Manly & Stewart. "It would be the right thing to do."

"They need to come clean," Doe said. "They need to circle back and make sure that guys who went through this are OK. ... I feel disloyal to Sallies. And I don't care about the money. But this is the only thing that is going to change things -- if people come forward. If they were accountable, I'd be their biggest cheerleader."

Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.