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  Retired Priest Recalls Allegations

By Mary Jo Patterson
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
April 16, 2002

From a specially equipped Florida office linking him to a courtroom in Atlantic City, a retired New Jersey priest testified yesterday that he "blew his stack" when an old friend accused him of having molested his sons.

Monsignor Philip Rigney, 85, said he well remembered the day - nearly 20 years ago in the sanctuary of St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Barrington near Camden - when Robert Young Sr. confronted him with allegations that he had sexually abused his sons Philip and Robert.

" I told him to get out," said Rigney, testifying quietly and unemotionally in a dark, open collar shirt and pants. Later he added, "I told him then and there I wanted nothing to do with him for the rest of my life."

The former priest also testified that the bishop of the Camden Diocese, Bishop George Guilfoyle, now deceased, did not believe the accusations but transferred him to a new parish anyway.

Stephen Rubino, representing Philip Young, now 36 and a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, then asked the elderly witness to read a memo the bishop wrote after learning of the allegations. Rigney, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, slowly raised an arm to put on a pair of glasses, then studied the memo.

Its last three lines read: "Later I saw Monsignor Rigney. He did not deny (the accusations) . . . He agreed to professional and spiritual help."

"I don't understand this," the retired priest said, staring down at a copy of the memo. "I denied that I had done anything to these children (although) I said I would get out of the place . . . I am surprised."

Rigney said, further, that he did not remember being asked for "professional help" and that he certainly did not need anyone's order to seek spiritual help. "I always got it, I didn't have to agree to get it," he said.

Philip Young and his brother, Robert Young, are two of the numerous plaintiffs who are suing Rigney plus other priests and church officials for conspiring to conceal sexual abuse of children in the Camden Diocese. They contend that the abuse took place for decades, and involved many minors and priests.

Because their lawsuit originated in 1994, long after the relevant statute of limitations had expired, a Superior Court judge in Atlantic City is now holding hearings to decide if the matter may proceed to trial.

In an unusual twist, Rigney is accused of abusing two generations of the Young family.

Last week, the Youngs' mother, Joan Dougherty, testified that after her sons made the allegations against Rigney, her husband and her brother both said they, too, had been subjected to his advances as youths.

Rigney was a close friend of the Young family; he married Joan Dougherty and Robert Young Sr., baptized their six children, accompanied the family on camping trips, and hosted young Philip and Robert at his rectory and shore house in Beach Haven.

Yesterday Rigney confirmed that he had a close social relationship with the family. When Rubino, the plaintiffs' lawyer, asked if he also loved Robert Young Sr., he replied: "I loved him very much."

In other testimony yesterday, Dougherty - who is divorced from Robert Young - broke down in tears for the second time under prolonged cross-examination by Joseph Kenney, attorney for the Diocese of Camden.

The plaintiffs claim in court papers that they waited so long to sue because they did not connect their personal problems to their having been abused. Both men, as teenagers, were expelled from school and became heavy drinkers.

Kenney asked Dougherty if she had taught her children to be aware of inappropriate sexual touches when they were young. She said she had not.

"You never told any of your six children that they should not allow anyone to touch their private parts?" Kenney asked.

The lawyer also grilled Dougherty about her reasons for suing. In earlier testimony, she said she and her sons joined the lawsuit after reading about it in a 1994 newspaper article.

Kenney read the following sentence from the article in question: "Since 1990, the diocese has reportedly paid $3.2 million to settle sex abuse allegations by 19 men and women." Then he pressed Dougherty to admit that she understood that the plaintiffs might make some money.

"You knew the plaintiffs were seeking money damages?" he asked.

"Yes, but . . ." she answered.

"So the answer is 'Yes'?" Kenney asked.

Dougherty's face reddened, and she started to sniffle. "I was trying to explain, I am sorry (but) I did not remember any money that was there."

 
 

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