Teen's Suit Targets Church

By Peter Franceschina
Sun-Sentinel [West Palm Beach FL]
March 12, 2003

A St. Lucie County teenager filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming a retired priest tried to seduce him last year by walking around nude and reading to him from sexually explicit letters.

The 48-page complaint claims former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, his predecessor J. Keith Symons and the hierarchy of the Diocese of Palm Beach have conspired to cover up sexual misdeeds by a number of priests, including the retired priest involved in this case, the Rev. Francis Maloney.

The lawsuit was filed a year after O'Connell stepped down after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct with seminary students decades ago.

West Palm Beach attorney J. Michael Burman, who represents the youth identified only as John Doe, said the complaint outlines the history of sexual abuse and misconduct in the Catholic Church because what happened to his client was not isolated.

"It shows a consistent pattern of abuse in the diocese and an attitude that is prevalent not only in the diocese but in the entire Catholic Church about hiding these things, sweeping them under the rug and being insensitive," Burman said. "It's sweeping because it is not one incident. It is a pattern of disregard for the safety of children and the traditional victims of abusers."

Sam Barbaro, spokesman for the diocese, could not be reached late Tuesday for comment. He has in the past declined to comment on pending lawsuits. Maloney could not be reached for comment.

The plaintiff was 17 years old and a senior at John Carroll High School last spring when he went to police. He told them he found Maloney in bed with another man and that the priest acted inappropriately around him and walked around nude while the boy was performing chores for extra money at the priest's home.

Police found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Diocese officials prohibited Maloney from serving at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie.

The accusations came about three years after Maloney was forced to retire as associate pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church west of Lake Worth and undergo treatment for an "inappropriate relationship" with a man, according to church officials.

The lawsuit claims church officials had a history of moving Maloney around the diocese.

The lawsuit says the boy was vulnerable because he had no father figure in his life and that Maloney knew he needed money. The suit also says the youth confided in the priest about problems at home.

The suit says Maloney would ask the youth sexually explicit questions during their conversations and had him read sexually explicit letters written to him by another priest in Massachusetts, the Rev. Donald Whipple, who also is named as a defendant.

One of Whipple's letters, included in the lawsuit, lists his return address under the name "Shepard Flockingsbee" and included a graphic photograph, according to the lawsuit. Whipple declined to comment.

The letter recounts Whipple's relationship with a man he met through a classified ad in a gay magazine, according to the suit. A second letter dated March 14, 2002, from Whipple to Maloney, also is part of the suit.

"When Whipple writes to Maloney, he is counseling him how to seduce the boy," Burman said. "Maloney was preying on a young fellow who had a troubled home life who needed help and counseling, and that is the classic pattern of an abuser."

The letter is written on Whipple's stationery.

"Please don't let the boy read this. You obviously gave him per[mission] to read the other mail. You must know you are probing, to find out if he has gay leanings," Whipple wrote. "You walk around naked. A seductive dance. Be careful! He is vulnerable. There is no Dad & he is on the outs with Mother.

"Don't get involved with him sexually. If she ever found out, the cops will come."

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