Abuse Victim's New Claim against Church on Hold

By Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach Post
November 24, 2006

West Palm Beach — Kevin Sidaway and the Archdiocese of Miami were back before a judge this week in a struggle that had its origins 40 years ago, has been in the courts for a decade, and continues even though the priest at the heart of it has died.

Sidaway, now 50, says he's one of several Lake Worth-area boys molested by the Rev. Rocco D'Angelo in the 1960s. Church leaders told parents D'Angelo would be sent somewhere where he couldn't threaten children. Instead, they transferred him to Florida's Gulf Coast, where he allegedly molested more boys over the ensuing decades.

When Sidaway found out in the mid-1990s, he was so furious he sought criminal charges against D'Angelo. But because in the 1960s rape was defined only as an attack on a female, prosecutors could do nothing.

After The Palm Beach Post revealed the D'Angelo case in January 1996 and Tampa-area newspapers picked up the story, at least four men there sued D'Angelo. Prosecutors there opted not to pursue a criminal investigation and the church later settled the cases.

Sidaway sued the Archdiocese of Miami in 1996 — the Diocese of Palm Beach wasn't formed until 1984 - and settled in 1998 for an undisclosed amount and a promise by the church to install safeguards against abusive priests. But in 2002, Sidaway sued again, alleging the archdiocese had not delivered on the terms of the deal.

D'Angelo, meanwhile, died in obscurity - there wasn't even an obituary - in Tampa in August 2005.

"I had no feeling whatsoever," Sidaway said Wednesday. "I said, 'Good riddance.' That's it."

In the 1998 settlement, officials had promised, among other things, to search the records of all active priests for any reports of sexual, drug or alcohol abuse; require a priest accused of such misconduct to be tested by a non-church psychologist; appoint a lay panel to investigate complaints; and bar minors from being in the bedrooms, rectories or residences of priests, or having unchaperoned overnight visits or trips with priests.

The archdiocese has argued the settlement is subjective and thus unenforceable and pointed out that it contained no deadline for installing safeguards. It said in motions that injecting the courts into religious matters would violate the constitutional separation between church and state.

Attorneys for the archdiocese also said Sidaway can't now ask for more money than the amount for which he settled. Sidaway has argued that the archdiocese in effect breached its contract. Lawyers confirmed Wednesday that Sidaway had originally demanded $3 million.

Attorneys referred comment Wednesday to archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta, who was out of the office.

The archdiocese has asked Judge John J. Hoy to reject the latest version of Sidaway's complaint. On Wednesday, Hoy delayed that action because of an administrative argument over a motion to keep the original settlement sealed.

Hoy - who inherited the case about two years ago from Judge Art Wroble, who was later voted off the bench - did not immediately set a new hearing date. But he told the lawyers Wednesday, "This case has been hanging around here for too long. It should have gone to trial already."

Sidaway and his wife, Maureen, were the only spectators in court Wednesday. A trial is what he expects - and wants.

"This community needs to understand what happened," he said.

On Oct. 3, when disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley claimed through a lawyer that he'd been molested as a child, parents of some of the victims immediately began calling one another, wondering aloud if Foley was yet another victim of Rocco D'Angelo. But while Foley lived in the Lake Worth area around the time D'Angelo molested the boys, at one point living just down the block, Sidaway and the others concluded locations and timing didn't match and there must have been yet another abusive priest.

They were proved correct two weeks later, on Oct. 19, when Foley revealed his alleged abuser was the Rev. Anthony Mercieca, a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth in 1966 and 1967, who now lives on an island off Malta.


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