Priest Faces Trial in '78-80 Rape Case
A Judge Rejected Statute-Of-Limitations Arguments The Alleged Victim Was a Student Where the Defendant Taught
By Jacqueline Soteropoulos
August 10, 2004
A judge yesterday turned aside arguments that the statute of limitations had expired and ordered a priest to stand trial on charges that he raped a Philadelphia boy more than 25 years ago.
For the first time, accuser Martin Donohoe faced the Rev. James J. Behan, 60, and testified about the abuse that Donohoe says began in 1978, when he was a 15-year-old student at North Catholic High School, where Behan taught.
Donohoe, 41, now of Burlington County, testified that Behan showed him the Front Street home he shared with other priests, then invited the teen to sleep over.
"When the lights were out, he rolled over and put his arms around me from behind . . . he started kissing me on my neck, fondling. Then he performed oral sex on me," Donohoe testified.
Donohoe gave Behan a long glance and squared his jaw, but his voice wavered as he described additional sex acts.
Donohoe said Behan abused him at least three times in the Front Street residence, once in a Germantown parish church, and three or four times in North Carolina after Behan was transferred there in 1980.
At age 17, while visiting Behan in North Carolina, Donohoe said, he ended their sexual relationship.
"I was on the other side of the bed in his bedroom, and I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore, because it's wrong.' "
Behan's defense attorney, Michael McGovern, asked why Donohoe never reported the abuse to police.
"It was an absolutely disgusting crime, and it's not something you go about telling people," Donohoe replied.
McGovern suggested that Donohoe came forward only after he was unsuccessful in receiving payment from Behan's religious order in 2002.
But at yesterday's preliminary hearing, Municipal Court Judge Linda Anderson refused to let McGovern question Donohoe about his interest in filing a lawsuit, whether he had an attorney, or whether he would have made his allegations public had the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales paid him $1 million or $2 million.
At a preliminary hearing, a judge must consider whether a defendant more likely than not committed a crime. Unlike at trial, the witnesses' credibility is not an issue at this initial stage of the case, and defense attorneys' opportunity to cross-examine is limited.
McGovern also unsuccessfully argued that the judge should dismiss all charges - including rape, indecent assault, and corrupting a minor - because the statute of limitations had long expired.
For criminal charges to be brought, Pennsylvania law ordinarily requires an abuse victim to notify authorities by age 30.
Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCartney argued that because the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales transferred Behan to North Carolina in 1980, his absence from Pennsylvania suspended prosecutors' time limit to bring charges.
The Rev. Edward Fitzpatrick, the Wilmington-based personnel director for the Oblates, testified yesterday that Behan held a succession of posts in North Carolina, plus a one-year sabbatical in Colorado, from 1980 until he was removed from the ministry in 2002.
Fitzpatrick, under questioning from McGovern, also testified that Behan would return to Philadelphia nearly every month to visit his family; to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals; and to attend meetings of the Oblates' governing body.
McCartney argued that "fleeting contact with the jurisdiction does not change the law" suspending the statute of limitations.
Anderson refused to dismiss the case and ordered that Behan be arraigned Aug. 30.
This is the first criminal case to result from a continuing Philadelphia grand-jury investigation into clergy sex abuse.
According to the grand-jury presentment, Behan admitted to church officials that he had sex with the teen.
After yesterday's hearing, McCartney told reporters: "I think that Marty did great. I think he was strong on the stand. I think it took a lot of courage. And I think the judge made the right decision."
But McGovern vowed that he would raise the statute-of-limitations issue again before the case progresses to trial in Common Pleas Court. The intervening 25 years, he said, would prevent Behan from getting a fair trial because potential witnesses have died or disappeared.
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