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  Ex-Altar Boy Traces Abuse to Vacation

By Maryann Spoto
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
April 19, 2002

He says it started when he was 9 years old, during a family trip to Walt Disney World. Monsignor Philip Rigney, a family friend, climbed into the bed they were sharing in a pop-up camper and began fondling him.

On subsequent vacations, in a church rectory, and at Rigney's beach house, the fondling escalated into sex acts that occurred too often over the next nine years for him to count, Robert A. Young Jr., now 37, testified yesterday.

In a class-action lawsuit, Young, his brother, Philip, and 16 others have accused Rigney, 14 other priests and numerous church officials of tolerating and concealing widespread child sex abuse within the Diocese of Camden.

In Superior Court in Atlantic City, Young, a former altar boy, testified that when the abuse began, the experience was confusing, but he did not tell anyone.

During family trips, there were always more people than beds in the camper, and it was not unusual for family members to double- and sometimes triple-up to sleep, Young said. Usually, his parents and Rigney decided who slept where, he said.

The first time the alleged abuse occurred, Young said, was during the Disney World trip, when all eight members of his family and Rigney stayed in the pop-up camper that slept eight. Young and Rigney ended up in the same bed, he said.

"I figured if my parents and monsignor made the sleeping arrangements and he was a close friend of the family . . . that this was okay," Young said. "It (the abuse) happened every night we were in Florida and on the way back."

The alleged abuse also occurred on other family trips to Canada and Vermont, as well as in Rigney's room at the rectory at his former church, St. Francis de Sales in Barrington, Camden County, and at the priest's house in Beach Haven West, Young said.

Rigney, who is now 85, denies the allegations and testified on his own behalf on Monday. He left New Jersey in 1986 and moved to Florida, where he worked in a church in the Palm Beach Diocese until officials there learned of the sex allegations in the lawsuit.

Philip Young, now 36, testified earlier this week that he was sexually abused by Rigney repeatedly over a five-year period, from the time he was 12 until he was 17.

As Robert Young described the sex acts Rigney allegedly performed on him and allegedly forced him to perform, his mother, Joan Dougherty, wept in the spectator section of the courtroom. At one point during his testimony, after fighting back his own tears, Young said he needed to take a break and left the courtroom, surrounded by his family and girlfriend.

Attorneys for the Camden Diocese, the priests and the religious leaders contend the lawsuit should be dismissed because it was filed long after the statute of limitations had expired. Several of the priests have died and cannot be properly defended, defense attorneys have argued.

They also insist that the Youngs claimed they suffered emotional harm only after they were informed of a class-action suit against the diocese that was filed in 1994 and learned there were monetary settlements in other cases, some 10 years after they had first reported the alleged abuse to church officials.

New Jersey law puts a two-year time limit on the filing of civil suits from the time an injury occurs, but it allows some exceptions if it can be proved that duress or some mental incapacity delayed the filing.

The Youngs contend they did not realize until 1994 how the sexual abuse had adversely affected their lives, and said George Guilfoyle, the former Bishop of Camden, told them not to go to authorities with their accusations because it would hurt the church and their family.

Guilfoyle died in 1991, but his estate is a defendant in this case, which is scheduled to continue before Superior Court Judge John Himmelberger Jr. on Monday.

Robert Young, who has been divorced twice, said he was expelled from vocational school in 11th grade for participating in riots and destroying property. An extremely religious man, Young said he no longer attends Mass on Sundays and holy days, but he sets aside time on those days to pray on his own.

Young is expected to continue his testimony on Monday.

 
 

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