Diocese Sex Scandal Hits TV
Alleged Abuse by Camden Clergy on 'Dateline NBC'
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
July 20, 2002
Dateline NBC will air a story Sunday about allegations of a decades-old sex scandal within the Diocese of Camden.
The story stems from a 17-part class-action lawsuit filed eight years ago in Atlantic City, a suit widely covered by the Courier-Postand other media.
Filed on behalf of nearly 20 plaintiffs, the suit alleges abuses dating as far back as 41 years.
While there have been numerous reports linking priests with the sexual abuse of minors around the country, Dateline's hour-long program will focus on alleged abuses in the Camden diocese. The story will be told through the experiences of four former parishioners who are plaintiffs in the case, a producer for the show said thisweek.
Gary Mulford, a Camden County native who is among the plaintiffs interviewed, said he was abused by priests at St. Peter's Church in Merchantville, at St. Gregory's in Magnolia, in cars, in hishome and by priests at a summer house down the shore.
He said his parents never suspected a thing and that he finallytold his mother just last week.
'I spent so much time with the priests my mother thought I was going to become one,' Mulford said. 'She was overjoyed.'
He said the alleged assaults, which he estimated to number in the hundreds, occurred from the time he was 12 until he was 24 or 25.
Now 42, Mulford said the Catholic church was such a dominant force in his family that he couldn't break the grasp his alleged abusers had on him.
'I never thought about it,' he said from his home in New Gretna.'It was like a book I put away on the shelf.'
Mulford said memories of abuse surfaced when he read a newspaper account in 1994 about a boyhood friend who claimed abuse by the same clergymen who he said abused him.
'From that story so many people came forward that the lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit,' he said.
The nearly 400-page lawsuit names 15 Camden Diocese priests and monsignors most of whom are retired or deceased as perpetrators and alleges four bishops and two monsignors helped cover up theiractions.
Mulford, who for years never spoke about his relationships with the clergymen, said priests William Titmas, John P. Kelly and John P. Bernard assaulted him relentlessly. All three priests are named in the lawsuit.
He described Titmas as his main abuser but said he felt so dominated by him that he had Titmas co-officiate his wedding, a union that ended in divorce in 1994.
'I was having a lot of difficulties along the way, a lot of emotional problems, but I never attributed it to the abuse,' Mulford said.
Mulford said he's had career setbacks he now attributes to the abuse and that he developed a digestive disorder, ulcerative colitis, that he believes was aggravated by stress.
He does not deny he would like to see a cash settlement of $1 million or more but says he's not in it for the money.
'The money is the way the legal system is structured and I'm convinced it's the only thing that will make the church take action,' he said.
His lawyer, Edward Ross of Haddon Township, said he cannot discuss settlement negotiations. He expects to appeal Judge John Himmelberger Jr.'s decisions to throw out the first two parts of the class-action suit.
Himmelberger rejected the first two parts, one in May and the second last month, finding the plaintiffs did not have sufficient cause to file for damages long after the statute of limitations filing deadline had passed.
Diocese spokesman Andrew Walton acknowledged Friday that Camden area churches have had pedophile priests but insisted they have all passed away or been purged.
'All priests who have been known to commit sexual assaults on minors have been removed,' Walton said.
He would not release the names of priests who were removed.
Walton said there have been no new reports of sexual abuse by priests in years.
'Since the diocese updated its policies in 1993 there has been only one case of sexual abuse reported and there have been none since Bishop (Nicholas) DiMarzio was installed three years ago,' he said.
Walton said he believes some of the charges in the suit are credible but that the percentage of abusive priests in the diocese was lower than the percentage of child molesters among other clergy or in the general population.
He also insisted that the diocese is well within its rights to defend the charges in court.
'There's a statute of limitations that exists that encourages parties to come forward in a timely basis and there's a good reason for that before memories fade, before witnesses are no longer available, before evidence is lost,' Walton said.
Ross said the next hearing was tentatively set for later this month but will more likely be held in September. It is unclear when Mulford's case will be heard.
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