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  A.C. Priest Removed for 1964 Child Abuse

By Meggan Clark
PressofAtlanticCity.com
October 11, 2005

ATLANTIC CITY-The Camden Diocese has permanently barred the pastor of St. Michael's Catholic Church from the ministry, saying he sexually abused a teenage boy.

The alleged abuse occurred in 1964 in Gloucester County, during the Rev. Michael H. D'Amico's first year of priesthood, the diocese said.

D'Amico, 65, has been a driving force in the Atlantic City area for decades. He was pastor at St. Augustine Church and St. Frances Cabrini Church, both in Ocean City, and St. Peter Catholic Church in Pleasantville. He was also a guidance counselor, administrator and crew team founder at Holy Spirit High School.

A 54-year-old man made charges against D'Amico in April, and they were substantiated in May, a diocese spokesman said Monday. D'Amico was removed from St. Michael's at that time, but the diocese did not make an official announcement to parishioners until last weekend, giving Bishop Joseph Galante time to meet with the victim. Parishioners believed D'Amico left because he was battling cancer.

D'Amico's supporters said they don't believe the allegations.

"Under no circumstances do I think this is even remotely, possibly true," said Michael Charlton, who said D'Amico has been a family friend for decades. "It just didn't happen. ... I know this man too well. It didn't happen."

Charlton is chairman of the board of trustees of Holy Spirit High School, but he said he was speaking as a personal friend of D'Amico. Charlton said D'Amico was vice principal of Holy Spirit when he was a student there in the 1980s.

The victim said D'Amico sexually abused him "on several occasions" while D'Amico was assigned to the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Westville Grove, Gloucester County, in 1964, a spokesman for the diocese said. At the time, the boy was about 13 and D'Amico was about 24 years old.

Diocese spokesman Andrew Walton would not say whether D'Amico admitted to sexually abusing the boy, but he said the diocese's investigation was less intensive than some investigations, which are conducted by a review board.

"The allegations were determined to be substantiated following interviews with the victim and the accused," Walton said. "If it was clear, based on information provided by the victim and the accused that the accusation was substantiated, there would be no reason to bring it before the review board."

He said the diocese reported the allegations to Atlantic County and Gloucester County prosecutors. There is no indication that D'Amico sexually abused anyone besides the victim, Walton said.

D'Amico is not technically defrocked, but he is "permanently removed from the ministry," which is the diocese's policy whenever a priest is "credibly accused" of sexual abuse.

"He is still a priest, but he may not function or present himself as a priest," Walton said.

He said D'Amico, who could not be reached for comment, is still living in the diocese but is not housed or supported by the church.

D'Amico was a powerful force in the area Catholic community for decades, most recently at St. Michael's, where he had served since 1998. Supporters said he rebuilt the congregation and was pivotal in the renovation of both the church, in 1998, and next-door Dante Hall Theater of the Arts in 2003.

Kevin Scull, who graduated from Holy Spirit in 1983, called the charges against D'Amico "mind-boggling." Like Charlton, he doesn't believe they're true.

"Not one iota. To me, it's everything he's against," Scull said. "It's obviously shocking. It's hard to believe that anyone would even come up with something like that."

He said D'Amico has been "an icon in my life."

Charlton said D'Amico's supporters are already meeting and fundraising to "do anything that we've got to do to defend Father."

"There's nobody going to sit on the sidelines for this one," he said. "Nobody."

Walton said D'Amico has been offered counseling and will be "encouraged ... to live a life of prayer and penance."

The victim has also been offered counseling, he said.

Walton urged anyone who has been abused by a priest to call (800) 964-6588 to report it.

 
 

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