|Collingdale Man Sues Archdiocese, Alleging He Was Abused by a Priest (with Video)
By Patti Mengers
March 17, 2011
Flanked by his family, Frank Finnegan stood outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon and revealed what he deemed to be the ultimate betrayal of trust.
“Father Kline, Father John Leo Kline, assaulted me and nine years earlier, assaulted my brother,” said the 49-year-old Collingdale resident.
Wednesday morning, Finnegan took a step toward the justice he had never expected to realize for the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of Kline between the ages of about 7 and 9. A lawsuit was filed on his behalf in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by local attorneys Dan Monahan and Marci Hamilton. They are working in conjunction with Jeff Anderson, an internationally known expert in sexual abuse litigation based in St. Paul, Minn.
Finnegan also made a statement to prosecutors in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office on Wednesday regarding his alleged abuse by Kline, who died Jan. 5, 1996, while serving as pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Chester County.
The lawsuit names Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali, former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn, who as Bevilacqua’s secretary of clergy was responsible for investigating clerical sexual abuse, and Karen Becker, director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.
The lawsuit charges that instead of protecting archdiocesan children from sexual abuse “by known predator priests,” the defendants “shielded abusive clergy from criminal detection, shielded the archdiocese hierarchy from scandal and shielded the archdiocese from financial liability.”
Officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia declined comment on the case Wednesday afternoon.
Finnegan is seeking a settlement in excess of $50,000. In his lawsuit, he maintains as a result of the abuse and the subsequent handling of his case by archdiocesan officials, he has suffered mental, physical and spiritual pain and loss of earnings. He continues to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment, therapy and counseling.
Finnegan, whose parents, sister, three children and wife of 25 years, Peggy, were with him Wednesday outside the archdiocesan offices, said his reasons for pursuing the lawsuit go beyond monetary compensation.
“I don’t want somebody who is 7 today to be me in 40 years. I don’t want somebody to be covered up and sheltered by the Catholic Church to offend a kid that’s little and take his innocence away and rock his family’s faith and belief in God — not so much in God, but in religion,” said Finnegan.
Every Thursday for 30 years, Kline had dinner with the Finnegan family, which he knew from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Philadelphia where Finnegan’s mother was secretary for 40 years.
“Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows my family and the relationship (Kline) had with my family knows how intimate his relationship was with our family and the trust that was broken and the absolute betrayal that took place,” said Finnegan.
Kline shared Christmas and Easter dinners with Finnegan, his parents and three siblings and vacationed with them on Long Beach Island in New Jersey where some of the abuse allegedly took place. Finnegan said he and his brother, Jack, who is now 58 and living in California, were also abused in the St. Francis Xavier rectory where Kline lived from 1956 until 1981 while teaching at Roman Catholic High School.
“It just shakes my family to the core,” he said.
Finnegan noted that he contacted the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and spoke with a victim assistance coordinator about three years ago when he first experienced flashbacks of the alleged abuse by Kline.
“I wanted his name on the record as somebody who was an offender. I wanted it on the record that he did this to me,” said Finnegan, who knew criminal prosecution wasn’t an option because Kline is dead.
Finnegan said a woman from the archdiocese called him back and asked him if he would speak to an archdiocesan investigator. Finnegan, said he initially consented, but had second thoughts, called back the woman and declined.
“It didn’t feel right. I had no legal protection,” said Finnegan who noted that was the last he heard from the archdiocese.
He said in 2004, his brother, Jack, filed an abuse complaint about Kline with archdiocesan officials who have since been covering the cost of counseling and that, up until last year, had been providing his brother with financial assistance. Jack has not yet filed a lawsuit.
“We have spoken to his brother. He has trouble traveling because of his psychological condition resulting from the abuse,” said Monahan, who is a former Media resident and Villanova University Law School graduate now living in Chester County.
Frank Finnegan said he was inspired to pursue a lawsuit when he heard Hamilton, who is based in Bucks County and is a law professor at Yeshiva University in New York, telling his brother’s story on a radio talk show. She is author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.”
Monahan said Finnegan’s lawsuit focuses on the abuse he allegedly suffered in New Jersey where the statute of limitations for lawsuits is more liberal than Pennsylvania’s because it is based on the time the injury is discovered.
The lawsuit maintains that victim assistance coordinators discouraged victims from reporting abuse to law enforcement authorities and that the defendants maintained “secret archive files” of alleged abuse of minors by priests that were withheld from law enforcement authorities.
The lawsuit makes reference to the recent Philadelphia grand jury investigation that resulted in the Feb. 10 arrest of two priests, one former priest and one Catholic school lay teacher for allegedly sexually abusing boys in the archdiocese. Lynn was also arrested in connection with the abuse because he was responsible for investigating allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
A mailman for 17 years, Finnegan said all of his life he has had feelings of doubt and unexplained bouts of insecurity and panic. In the last six months, he has experienced sleepless nights.
Finnegan said he has coped by burying himself in volunteer activities for his children, including Francis Jr., age 23, Mary Kate, 21 and AJ, 17. He has served as president and vice president of the parents’ organization at Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill where they all have been involved in theatrical productions.
“I have three great kids, a wonderful wife and my in-laws are great people,” noted Finnegan.
He worries about his brother out in California.
“My family is my therapy. I have people all around me who love me. Jack is out there on his own,” said Finnegan.
He remembers how he and his brother dutifully served the Catholic Church as children.
“My brother was an altar boy. I was a choir boy,” said Finnegan, who also played clarinet in the high school band Kline directed.
According to a published obituary, Kline died at the age of 73 in January 1996 after open heart surgery at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. At the time, he was pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Chester County, where he had been assigned in 1982. Ordained in 1949, Kline taught biology and art and directed the marching band at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia from September 1952 until June 1981.
In addition to St. Francis Xavier Parish, where he resided for almost 25 years, Kline lived at St. Timothy and St. Athanasius parishes, both in Philadelphia and was assistant pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lehigh County and Our Mother of Mercy and St. Dominic parishes, both in Philadelphia.
“He identified me in the cradle,” said Finnegan. “He targeted me.”
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