Del. Man Claims He Was Abused by Priest Working in North Carolina

By Randall Chase
October 12, 2007,0,3002229.story

Wilmington, Del. - A Wilmington man alleged Friday that he was sexually abused as a young boy by a priest who now heads a parish in North Carolina.

Michael Sowden, 59, claims that Rev. Albert J. Gondek fondled him while he was attending a summer camp in Maryland more than 45 years ago.

Sowden's attorney, Thomas Neuberger, sent a letter to Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte on Friday, asking Jugis to remove Gondek from his pastorate at Our Lady of the Rosary church in Lexington, N.C.

"Gondek should be immediately removed from all his positions with your parish and diocese and all his faculties should be suspended so that children can be protected from the threat he poses," Neuberger wrote.

In response to the letter, the diocese issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it had placed Gondek on administrative leave and was in the process of contacting his religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

David Hains, spokesman for the Charlotte diocese, said that under church policy, it would be up to the Oblates to investigate the allegation and determine how to proceed.

In the meantime, Hains said, Gondek will not be allowed engage in any pastoral ministry.

Gondek, who, according to a church secretary, was out of town, did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages left Friday morning.

Neuberger said Gondek is the third member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales to be sent to North Carolina after allegedly abusing children in Delaware.

"Why were they being sent there?" he asked.

Sam Waltz, a spokesman for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province of the Oblates, said officials with the order were not familiar with the complaint and declined to comment.

Neuberger also represents Eric Eden, a Delaware man who claims he was repeatedly molested by the Rev. James O'Neill, an Oblate priest who was relieved of his duties as pastor of a Greensboro, N.C., church in 2003 after officials learned of allegations of "inappropriate behavior."

Eden, now in his late 30s, claims that O'Neill sexually abused him over a 9-year period beginning in 1976, when he was 8 years old. Eden alleges that the abuse occurred at his family's home, in O'Neill's rectory bedroom and office at Salesianum School in Wilmington, where O'Neill served as principal, and elsewhere.

On Friday, Neuberger filed a motion to amend Eden's lawsuit against O'Neill and other church officials, alleging that the Oblates conspired with the Diocese of Wilmington to transfer 32 pedophile priests, 20 from the diocese and 12 from the Oblates, from place to place rather than report them to law enforcement authorities.

"The defendants made a calculated business decision that it would be less costly to cover up the long history of sexual abuse by their predators and continually just move them to new locations rather than deal with the ramifications of stopping and exposing the sexual abuse of children," Neuberger said.

Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the Wilmington diocese, said he had not seen Eden's amended complaint and could not comment.

Neuberger said Sowden, who is retired from the funeral industry, sought help from mental health professionals more than 10 years ago to deal with his childhood trauma but had never reported the abuse to church officials until now.

"Everybody works it out in their own way," Neuberger said.

In addition to allegedly being fondled by Gondek, Sowden claims he also was abused by the Rev. Francis G. DeLuca at St. John the Beloved elementary school in Wilmington, where he was an altar boy.

DeLuca, 77, was sentenced by a New York judge last month to 60 days in jail for repeatedly molesting his grandnephew, Michael Dingle, 18, who is suing his great-uncle with the help of Neuberger's firm.

DeLuca returned to his hometown of Syracuse in the early 1990s after being dismissed from public ministry in Delaware, where he was accused of sexually abusing a minor 30 years earlier.

Shortly after DeLuca was arrested in New York last fall, Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli released the names of 20 diocesan priests, including DeLuca, against whom the diocese had substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse.


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