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  Priest: I Offered to Quit in '84, but Was Rejected

Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
April 16, 2002

A priest forced to resign from the Diocese of Palm Beach earlier this month testified on Monday that he was willing to leave the priesthood when sex-abuse allegations were first made against him in 1984, but that the New Jersey bishop decided to transfer him instead.

Monsignor Philip Rigney, 84, also said he was never asked to get professional help by Camden Diocese Bishop George Guilfoyle — or anyone else — after being accused.

"I was called up on this thing, and the bishop told me he didn't believe it and he would give me another parish to prove it. So he gave me Pitman, which was a nice parish," said Rigney, who retired from the Camden diocese in 1987.

Rigney came to the Diocese of Palm Beach in 1991, when he first began saying Mass at St. Peter's in Jupiter. Local diocese officials said he arrived as a retired priest looking for work and with a letter from his bishop attesting to his fitness to serve.

Camden church officials have been at a loss to explain how Rigney received the favorable recommendation years after he was accused of sexual abuse, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Palm Beach County church officials forced his resignation on April 5, after learning Rigney was named as a defendant in 1994 lawsuit alleging he molested two generations of a family.

Rigney's testimony on Monday came in hearings for that lawsuit. Rigney appeared by videoconference in Superior Court Judge John G. Himmelberger Jr.'s courtroom. Rigney is accused of sexually abusing brothers Philip and Robert Young, of Wilmington, Del., between 1978 and 1982.

The abuse allegedly occurred in the rectory of St. Francis de Sales Church in Barrington, Camden County.

He has denied the allegations, but he wasn't asked directly about them by plaintiffs' lawyer Stephen Rubino during the 90-minute videoconference appearance on Monday.

"I don't remember ever being asked to get professional help," Rigney said. "I've always had spiritual help."

Last week, the Youngs' mother — Joan Dougherty — testified that when she brought her sons' allegations to Guilfoyle, he told her not to report them, but said Rigney would get treatment at a rehabilitation center for priests. He never did.

The Youngs and 16 others filed a class-action suit in 1994 accusing Diocese of Camden priests of sex abuse and diocesan leaders of covering up the crimes.

At issue in the hearing is whether the Youngs, now in their 30s, have a legitimate reason for not reporting the alleged abuse earlier. Under New Jersey law, minors who are sexually abused have until two years after their 18th birthday to make civil claims.

 
 

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