Church Sex Abuse Case before Court
Suit Accuses Priest of Molesting Boys in Camden County Between1978 and 1982
By William H. Sokolic
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
April 2, 2002
Msgr. Philip Rigney married Robert and Joan Young. The couple named a son after the clergyman, who baptized his namesake and the boy's older brother.
But the monsignor also sexually abused the two boys between 1978 and 1982 while he was a pastor at St. Francis de Sales Churchin Barrington, according to a lawsuit filed eight years ago.
The alleged abuse -- and more importantly, the Camden Diocese's reaction to it -- took center stage here Monday in state SuperiorCourt. The civil case is the first of many -- involving a total of 18 people alleging sexual abuse by diocesan officials -- that seek to allow plaintiffs to move forward with their charges even though they have surpassed the statute of limitations. Some incidents date to the mid-1960s.
It's expected to take about a year for all the cases to be heard and decided individually. Lawyers for the alleged victims hope the Youngs' allegations are allowed to move forward, setting a precedent for the others.
Coincidentally, the start of the hearings comes at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is under intense fire nationwide for accusations of sexual abuse by priests. The Diocese of Camden represents more than 425,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties.
At issue in the current hearing is why the victims waited as long as they did before taking legal action.
'The focus is what was said to the family and how that impacted their decision not to file suit back then, whether the defendants did anything to prevent a lawsuit,' said Judge John G. Himmelberger.
The statute of limitations requires legal action in a sexual abuse case involving a minor to be taken within two years after the victim turns 18, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as duress or lack of awareness that such activity was wrong.
The alleged victims in the Young case -- Robert and Philip Young-- are now in their mid-30s. Their case was filed in 1994.
Stephen Rubino, the Margate lawyer who represents Robert and Philip Young, said a child abuse case should be heard on its merits, regardless of when it comes to light. The New Jersey Legislature is considering bills that would remove any statute of limitations in such cases.
But pending laws have no bearing on this situation, said Brian P. Tierney, a spokesman for the diocese.
'The statutes are crucial to the case,' he said. 'This wasn't10 days late. This was 10 years.'
Tierney acknowledges the charges are horrendous.
'To see the pain the Youngs are going through makes it all the more sad they didn't bring this up within the prescribed time,'he said.
But Rubino blamed duress from the diocese for the delay.
'It has been our contention they didn't file because they were told by Bishop George Guilfoyle not to go to authorities, that the church would take care of it,' he said. The bishop, who died in 1991, had said revealing details of the allegations would harm the church and the Young family, Rubino said.
The attorney accused the diocese of an organized cover-up to suppress this and other cases.
'What they didn't tell Mrs. Young is as important as what they did tell her,' Rubino said.
Msgr. Joseph W. Pokusa, a lawyer who has been chancellor for the diocese since 1978, testified Monday. He was Joan Young's initial contact, meeting with her at St. Jude's Church in Blackwood in late January 1984.
'I had no reason to think she was not credible. It didn't seem fabricated or outlandish,' Pokusa said Monday. His meeting set up a subsequent discussion between Joan Young and Bishop Guilfoyle.
Pokusa considered the allegations serious, but did not suggest the boys' mother go to the police, he testified.
The mother worried such action might disgrace Rigney, Pokusa testified. In a phone call later that year, Pokusa told the Young family the bishop assured him Rigney was getting professional help.
The situation quieted down until word of a settlement between the diocese and abuse victims surfaced in 1994.
Pokusa will continue his testimony today, before the court adjourns until Monday.
Expected to testify next week are Robert Young, now 35; Philip Young, 34; and their mother.
Rigney, who retired and now lives in Florida, did not show up to testify. The diocese said his health was poor, but Rubino's partner, Edward Ross, said earlier depositions suggested that was untrue.
Rigney's testimony is important to the Young case, Rubino said.
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