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  Neumann Grad: I Was Molested
Claims Priest Abused Him and Others

By Joseph R. Daughen
Philadelphia Daily News
May 21, 2002

He Was 13 years old, he said, and a freshman at St. John Neumann High School in South Philadelphia. Like many Neumann students, he had after-school housekeeping chores.

The work crew he was assigned to consisted of about a dozen teen-agers. They were known as "Smitty's boys," he said in an interview.

"Smitty" was the Rev. Edward Smith, who had been an English teacher and, 26 years ago, served as Neumann's dean of student life. After the boy graduated in 1979, Smith was promoted to principal of the school.

Among other things, the 13-year-old's duties included keeping the Coke machine filled, collecting tickets at the Saturday-night dances, and sweeping up after the dances.

He was paid a nominal sum for this, the boy, now 40, said. He viewed the work as part of his responsibility as a Neumann student.

What he wasn't prepared for was the other extracurricular activity he said Smith demanded of him and other boys.

In complaints filed with police and the district attorney's office, the former student said Smith twice sexually molested him.

In addition, he told the authorities, he saw Smith sexually abuse two other boys in the presence of another priest.

Neither the police nor District Attorney Lynne Abraham's office would comment. But other sources, including the head of the religious order to which Smith belongs, confirmed the authorities are looking into the matter.

"One evening after a school dance I witnessed Father Edward Smith commit a criminal act, sexually molesting two boys in the presence of [another priest]," the former Neumann student said in a March 27 letter to Abbot Thomas De Wane, the administrator of the Norbertine Fathers.

The Norbertine order, whose U.S. headquarters is in De Pere, Wis., had been under contract with the Philadelphia archdiocese to provide teaching priests to Neumann, a diocesan school. Smith, now in his mid-50s, is a member of the Norbertines and still a priest. The archdiocese said responsibility for Smith's conduct rested with the Norbertines.

"Father Smith committed two additional criminal acts by sexually molesting me on two separate occasions, once on an elevator at the [faculty] dormitory attached to the school and the other time after school in the conference room," the former student's letter continued. "Edward Smith molested me physically, raped me spiritually, and slaughtered my childhood."

The former student has been under the care of a psychologist for the past nine years. Based on the details he has told her, the psychologist said, disclosure of his identity at this point in his treatment could be "disastrous" for him. She agreed to speak about her patient only with his permission and only if she and her client could remain anonymous.

"This is a tremendously disturbing event in his life," the psychologist said. "He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

She said her client was further injured when he complained to church authorities, only to be rebuffed.

"The attitude he encountered was, 'Why don't you just get over it? It happened a long time ago, so forget about it,' " she said.

"Well, there is a reason why he hasn't gotten over it. This is very, very difficult for him. He was abused by someone who, in effect, was a father figure to him. His experience with this abusive relationship likely has contributed to the failure he's experienced in having an intimate relationship."

Smith, through his lawyer, refused to comment. The priest who was said to be a witness to Smith's sexual abuse of two other boys denied through his lawyer that he had seen such an incident.

In his letter to De Wane, the former student demanded that the abbot take steps to remove Smith from contact with schoolchildren, something De Wane said already has been done. The complainant also insisted that Smith be removed from the priesthood, and asked for an apology from "the Catholic Church."

His last two demands, he said, have gone unanswered.

Dissatisfied with the church's response, the former student said he filed complaints with police and the district attorney's office. He said he has been interviewed by detectives from the Special Victims Unit and by personnel working on the grand-jury investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by priests launched by Abraham.

Abbot De Wane told the Daily News that Smith is working in a Norbertine priory in Claymont, Del.

He would not comment on the validity of the allegations against Smith. He did say Smith was removed from contact with schoolchildren "a long time" ago and indicated no further action against him is contemplated.

A source familiar with the allegations against Smith said four other complaints from students had been filed against Smith over the years. All four were "resolved," the source said.

"Ed Smith has not been in any kind of public ministry for a long time," said De Wane. "He's active and working on internal financial matters. He has an office in the priory. He is not in an active public religious ministry."

Another source said Smith left Neumann before the end of the 1982 school year after reports circulated about a physical altercation between Smith and a student.

De Wane said detectives from the police Special Victims Unit contacted him and Smith in March.

"I understand the police are investigating it, but they have had no further contact with me or Ed," De Wane said. "My understanding is the statute of limitations has expired so they may have given up on it."

Inspector William Colarulo, of the police Public Affairs Unit, said the department would not comment on the matter. Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for Abraham, said any complaints received by the district attorney's office in connection with the grand jury probe are "confidential."

De Wane said he met with Smith and Smith's lawyer in Philadelphia on April 6, but wouldn't disclose details.

"There's nothing more I can say," De Wane said. "The allegations were made. The lawyers would prefer that we say nothing publicly."

When a reporter contacted Smith at the Delaware priory, the priest referred questions to Thomas A. Bergstrom, a prominent criminal attorney who represented John du Pont, the chemical heir who was found guilty in 1997 of murdering Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.

Bergstrom, after being told the details of the former student's allegations, wouldn't comment.

Attempts to reach the priest whom the former student said was a witness to a sexual incident were unsuccessful. On one occasion, a message left on his answering machine was returned by a well-known Wilmington attorney, who said he wouldn't allow his client to be interviewed because of the existence of Abraham's grand jury investigation.

The former student told the Daily News he was so distraught by his experience with Smith that a few weeks later he tried to commit suicide by ingesting muscle-relaxing medication prescribed for his parents.

Now an accountant, the one-time student said officials of the Philadelphia archdiocese told him to take his complaint to the Nortbertine Fathers. He was told the archdiocese has no authority over priests who belong to orders, he said.

The diocese operates Neumann and collects tuition from its students. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said it is the responsibility of the religious order to which a priest belongs to investigate allegations of misconduct. In Smith's case, that would be the Norbertines, who no longer teach at Neumann.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese refused to answer any questions about Smith, referring a reporter to the Norbertines.

Staff writer Ron Goldwyn contributed to this report.

 
 

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