Camden Diocese Sued on Sex-Abuse Allegation
A Cumberland County Man, 28, Says His Memories of Activities by Three Priests Were Long Repressed

By Melanie Burney
Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]
March 31, 2005

A former altar boy says he was sexually abused by three former priests in Cumberland County, but repressed the childhood memories for years.

In a civil suit filed yesterday in state Superior Court in Camden, Darren K. Leibow of Millville also alleges that top church officials, living and dead, conspired to cover up the abuse.

The lawsuit alleges the abuse occurred between 1986 and 1991 and involved priests then assigned to St. Michael's Church in Cedarville. Two have died, and the third was defrocked.

At the time, Leibow, now 28, was head altar boy at Our Lady of Lakes in Laurel Lake, a mission chapel of St. Michael's.

The priests gave Leibow gifts, such as money, baseball cards and a cross, and used threats and intimidation to keep him from disclosing the abuse, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit mirrors a 1994 case brought by 23 men and women who said priests in the Camden Diocese had sexually abused them. Although a judge dismissed the complaints because the statute of limitations had expired, the diocese in 2003 agreed to pay the plaintiffs $880,000.

Andrew Walton, a spokesman for the diocese, declined to comment yesterday on the new lawsuit, saying church officials had not seen it.

"There have been no new incidents of sexual abuse of a minor by priests in 10 years," Walton said. "There is no priest currently in any type of ministry in this diocese against whom a credible allegation of abuse been made."

Like the alleged victims in the earlier case, Leibow contends that he was only recently able to overcome the repressed memories.

Civil claims in sex-abuse cases must be filed by the time the victim is 20. A judge may make an exception for those who can show they were under duress or did not realize until years later that they had been harmed.

Leibow said fear and confusion had overwhelmed him, causing him "to flee from institutional religion and to shut out" the childhood experiences.

An April 2003 chance encounter at a Millville restaurant triggered an onslaught of confusing memories, the lawsuit said. "That began the process of recovering the memory that had long since been lost," said his attorney, Edward J. Ross of Westmont.

According to the 31-page lawsuit, the abuse began when the Rev. John P. Kelly took an interest in Leibow, giving him gifts and referring to him as "my boy."

After giving Leibow wine during a confession, Kelly allegedly began rubbing Leibow's groin, the lawsuit said.

In what he described as "ritualistic routine," Leibow said Kelly would hug and spank him after hearing his confession.

As time passed, Leibow was befriended by the Rev. Timothy Pisik, who often took Leibow to Phillies games, the lawsuit suit. Once the alleged sexual encounters with Pisik began, Kelly "seemed to distance himself" from Leibow, the lawsuit said.

Leibow alleges he was later sexually abused by the Rev. James R. Ryan, who would drive Leibow home from Mass. Leibow stopped attending church at age 15.

The lawsuit names the estates of Kelly, who was also accused in the 1994 lawsuit, and Ryan. Pisik, who was defrocked in 1990, spent time in prison for sexually assaulting parish children, according to the lawsuit.

The other defendants include former Camden Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, now the bishop of the Brooklyn, N.Y., Diocese, and the estates of his predecessors, Bishops George Guilfoyle, James Schad and James T. McHugh.

The lawsuit alleges that church leaders acted "willfully to protect the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church rather than the safety of the children entrusted to their care."

The lawsuit contends that Leibow suffered personal injury, severe emotional distress, and a diminished childhood, and it seeks unspecified damages. It also says Leibow has lost faith in the church.

The diocese spent nearly a decade defending itself against accusations that church leaders had tolerated the sexual abuse of children by priests for decades and kept the allegations from its 445,000 parishioners.

In response to sexual-abuse claims, the diocese has hired a victim-assistance coordinator, established a toll-free number to report abuse, and formed an independent review board to assess sexual-abuse allegations against clergy.


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