Accused Priest Was Teaching in N.J.

By Harry Yanoshak [Pennsylvania]
July 6, 2005

A Catholic priest who is named in a child sexual abuse lawsuit quit teaching ethics Tuesday at Gloucester County College.

The Rev. David Sicoli's decision to step down was made a few hours after the Courier Times informed the New Jersey school about the lawsuit.

Sicoli, the former assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception BVM Church in Bristol Township, taught ethics part time at the college in Sewell. He taught one class in the spring and had been scheduled to teach another this fall, school supervisor Carol Kebles said.

"We had no idea," she said of the lawsuit.

Kebles referred additional questions to Nick Burzichelli, the college's vice president of human resources.

Burzichelli confirmed the college learned of the allegations Tuesday and informed Liberal Arts Department Dean Ann Wilcox. She then contacted Sicoli, who told her he wouldn't return in the fall, Burzichelli said.

Sicoli, of Sea Isle City, was subjected to a criminal background check, which he passed, the college said.

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the church hierarchy wasn't aware Sicoli was teaching at the college. Farrell added it would be a "personnel matter" and not in her realm to discuss whether Sicoli should have informed the church.

"All I can say is that we weren't contacted by him," regarding his teaching position, she said.

Sicoli left as pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in South Philadelphia on July 1, 2004, before news of the lawsuit was publicized. He has been on "restricted" ministry duties since, the archdiocese said.

Three men from Bucks County sued the priest and the Philadelphia archdiocese last year. The men alleged Sicoli had molested them and supplied them with alcohol during sleepovers at his Sea Isle City beach house and at a location in Wildwood, between 1979 and 1983. The lawsuit also claimed the archdiocese covered up the abuse.

Jay Abramowitch, a lawyer from Berks County who filed the lawsuit against Sicoli and the archdiocese, said he was shocked to learn the priest was teaching ethics.

"The fact that he was in any kind of teaching position involving young people is unthinkable," Abramowitch said. "I can't help but be in shock that he's teaching anybody anything."

Abramowitch represents 19 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. Five alleged victims and four priests have or had ties to Bucks County, according to the lawsuits.

Abramowitch said the Sicoli lawsuit has been held in abeyance, until after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides whether to take up an earlier round of priest sexual abuse lawsuits. Fourteen priests and 16 alleged victims have been named in those lawsuits, Abramowitch said.

The state Superior Court has ruled that Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits prohibited the alleged victims from suing now over attacks that happened decades ago, when they were children.

A Philadelphia judge ruled similarly, but several courts in other counties reached an opposite conclusion and said such lawsuits could continue, in part because of unanswered questions about whether church officials covered up the abuse.

Abramowitch believes the Supreme Court will rule in his favor. He's arguing that abusing priests and their victims maintained a confidential - don't tell - contract while the abuse continued. When the victim reported the abuse is the time when the clock should start running on the statute of limitations.

Since June, nine other priests, seven with ties to Bucks County, have been defrocked because of "credible accusations" that they had sexually abused children, according to the archdiocese. Sicoli isn't in that group.