Suit against Diocese Expanded to Include Conspiracy Claim

October 12, 2007

Wilmington, Del, (AP/WBOC)- 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.

David Hains, spokesman for the Charlotte diocese, said he was aware of the letter but had no immediate comment. Gondek, who according to a church secretary was out of town, did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

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, did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Neuberger also represents Eric Eden, a Delaware man who claims he was repeatedly molested by Fr. 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. He explained why he filed the lawsuit.

"I am doing this because I want to ensure that no other child, be it here in the U.S. or

elsewhere, has to go through what I went through for nine years of my life," Eden said. "No child should be afraid each time the doorbell rings. No child should lose their innocence because some priest abuses his trust."

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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