1st Suit Filed under Del. Sex-Abuse Law

By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer [Delaware]
July 13, 2007

Under a new Delaware law nearly unique in the nation, a 55-year-old man filed suit yesterday against a priest, a parish, and the Diocese of Wilmington for sexual assaults he alleges took place more than 40 years ago.

Robert Quill, a retired Navy lieutenant and federal court officer, alleges that Francis DeLuca, a former priest of the Wilmington Diocese, assaulted him at least 300 times starting when he was 13, and that the diocese knowingly failed to protect him and DeLuca's many other victims.

He is also suing St. Elizabeth's parish in Wilmington, where he served as an altar boy and DeLuca was a parish priest.

Quill's suit is the first to be filed under the Delaware Child Victims Act, signed Tuesday, which establishes a two-year moratorium on the statute of limitations on lawsuits for sex abuse.

Under the law, passed unanimously in both houses of the General Assembly, abuse victims have until July 10, 2009, to seek damages regardless of when the assaults occurred.

In the past, victims of sexual assault in Delaware had as little as two years in which to sue or press criminal charges, after which they could bring no charges. "There's been a change in the culture of understanding" about the long-term damage of sex abuse, Quill's attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, said yesterday.

Delaware is only the second state in recent years to create such a "window" for sex-abuse cases. California passed a one-year window in 2002. That led to more than 800 lawsuits against Catholic clergy and dioceses in that state. Settlements in those cases have been averaging about $1 million per victim.

The Delaware law allows victims to sue their abusers as well as institutions that may have facilitated their abuse through "gross negligence." Quill's suit alleges the diocese was grossly negligent in his case because it learned in 1962 DeLuca had repeatedly assaulted a boy in another parish. Quill says his abuse began in 1968 and continued until 1975.

Quill's complaint, filed in Delaware federal district court, alleges the assaults caused him a lifetime of depression and trauma that forced him to retire early.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Wilmington said yesterday it was studying the suit and would have no immediate comment. DeLuca could not be reached.

Delaware's Child Victims' Act does not affect the state's criminal statute of limitations, which means someone who failed to notify civil authorities of an assault within the time then required may not bring criminal charges now. "We wanted to make it so simple that it was the same as if you were molested last week and wanted to sue today," said Sen. Karen Peterson (D., Wilmington), the law's chief sponsor.

DeLuca, 77, is awaiting sentencing on criminal charges in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was found guilty of sexually abusing a minor for five years.

Since California passed its statute window in 2002, lobby groups representing the insurance industry, the Catholic Church, and youth organizations have defeated similar measures in at least eight states, including Pennsylvania.

"I think the Delaware success will breathe life into legislative reforms elsewhere," said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Until Delaware, it was easy for many to assume California was just a bizarre aberration."

Tammy Lerner, executive director of the Bryn Mawr-based Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, said yesterday her organization was drafting legislation for a civil-statute window similar to Delaware's that it would present to Pennsylvania lawmakers in September.

Lerner said she believed previous efforts may have failed in Harrisburg because advocates framed the sex-abuse problem in terms of the Catholic Church, which unnerved lawmakers.

Wilmington dentist Thomas P. Conaty III, one of the leaders of the coalition that lobbied for Delaware's statute window, said yesterday that they studied why similar legislation failed in so many other states and discovered "they were diluted to death by amendments."

"So we came up with a mantra," he said, "which we kept repeating to the lawmakers: 'Support this bill with no amendments.' And that's what they did."

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or


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