Mother from '78 Episode Speaks on Pastor's Past
Father DeVita apologizes for Long Island incident; steadfastly denies Florida allegations.

By Jim Meenan
South Bend (IN) Tribune
April 30, 2002

New Buffalo, MI ---- Father Thomas DeVita returned to his St. Mary of the Lake parish this weekend and began to tend to his daily parish duties Monday.

But he refused any further comment on past sexual misconduct allegations Monday except for comments made by him during his weekend sermons at St. Mary's of the Lake Church Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, the Long Island mother of the victim with whom that sexual misconduct took place years ago is speaking.

In DeVita's sermons, he said the news media was rehashing "what I have already admitted to in 1998 about my misconduct in New York in 1978."

But he also said: "Yes, the sins of some of us clergy and the way the matter was sometimes dealt with was often inadequate and we now repentfully realize and admit that."

DeVita apologized to his parishioners "for the disruption and embarrassment which this has caused in the life here at St. Mary's.

"I am sincerely sorry," he said.

He also emphatically denied recent allegations from Florida that he improperly touched an adult while he was a priest there.

"The diocese in Florida, at (Kalamazoo) Bishop (James) Murray's request, has reviewed their files and has admitted their press release to the media was incorrect in citing the Florida allegation as a reason for my departure," DeVita said during his sermon.

"The information about the allegation is very sketchy ---- at best."

The Diocese of Palm Beach released a statement April 18 stating "upon receipt of an allegation by an adult person to the Diocese of Palm Beach in October of 1995, Father DeVita was removed from his ministry."

Deacon Sam Barbaro, communications director of the Palm Beach Diocese, said Monday he was unaware of an additional clarification on DeVita's history with the Florida diocese.

None had been made to or from Barbaro's office as of late Monday afternoon. But he said it is possible there had been some clarification between the two dioceses that he was not aware of and he would look into it.

DeVita said in his sermon that attorneys for the Diocese of Kalamazoo and his own attorney are investigating in order to dispute the Florida allegations so he may continue his work at St. Mary's "without this horrible cloud over me and you," and "to restore the dignity of my parents and family who live in Florida."

Other than that, DeVita is not commenting publicly on the matter. But the mother of the victim from 24 years ago is.

She says her son was paid $50,000 by the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, N.Y., in 1994 in a settlement agreement over the 1978 incident.

The boy in the incident is now 39 years old and lives in Florida, and is bound by the agreement not to speak publicly about the incident.

His mother said interviews on the subject are difficult because of the painful memories it brings up from the past. But in an interview with The Tribune last week, she recalled the details of what happened to her teen-age son in December 1978.

"He took my son into the city for a weekend around Christmastime," said the victim's mother, recalling the incident that DeVita admits to, but has called consensual. "He had just turned 15 October 30 of that year. This was December.

"I thought he couldn't be in safer hands. I thought he (DeVita) was arrogant and conceited, but I thought he was good to my son. I never gave something like that (sexual misconduct by a priest) a second thought. Being with a priest, it was inconceivable."

The memory of her son's return home remains vivid to the victim's mother 24 years later.

"I was in a different part of the house," she said. "He slammed the door and ran upstairs. Father Tom poked his head in the door and said (her son) got a little hurt. He said, 'We were horsing around with some teen-agers at my friend's parish.' "

DeVita left, but her son stayed in his room.

"DeVita called to talk to him that night and he said, 'To hell with Father Tom,' (and) that he wasn't going to talk to him," she said.

Her son eventually emerged from his room and went to school and asked his mother to take him to a doctor. She took him to the same pediatrician who had seen him since the day he was born.

"He called me and said, 'What's he been doing?'"

Victim's mother's son told her about his weekend with the priest.

"He said he could have been sexually abused by that priest," she said. "That's when we started thinking, and everything fit together."

She said she confronted DeVita.

"He acted like he didn't even hear me," she said. "He spoke about what a nice day it was. I told him I was not leaving there until you admit it and swear not to touch my son again.

"He did swear to not touch him again, but the damage had already been done."

She says her feelings were very strong at the time.

"I wanted to get a gun and kill him," she said.

She believes the priest in earlier meetings had "been working his way up to (her son)."

The event has made for some sad times at the family's household.

"We have a daughter four years younger than my son," she said. "She did not know what happened. She asked, 'What's going on around here? All you two do is cry all the time.'"

The family left the Roman Catholic Church over the incident.

But she talked to a bishop in the Rockville Centre Diocese in 1984 about the incident, and she was told he would be taken care of.

But she said nothing was done until 1993, when she came across DeVita's name again with him being made a pastor in Long Island.

That is when DeVita went for six months of psychiatric treatment, and opted to go to Florida, eventually serving briefly in the Palm Beach Diocese before joining the Kalamazoo Diocese.

The Palm Beach Diocese says he was accompanied by a psychological report recommending continued ministry for Father DeVita.

Officials with the Diocese of Kalamazoo said last week it remains behind the priest and that he "represents no threat to anyone of any age."



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