Delaware: Priest Admits Molestation, According to Court Filing

By Randall Chase
Associated Press, carried in the Daily Times
January 17, 2008

WILMINGTON (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest named as a defendant in a child sex abuse lawsuit had admitted molesting the accuser, according to court papers filed this week.

The Rev. James W. O'Neill, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and a former principal of Salesianum School in Wilmington, is accused in the lawsuit of sexually abusing former student Eric Eden hundreds of times 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, and elsewhere.

O'Neill, now 68 and living in Washington, D.C., was relieved of his duties as pastor of a Greensboro, N.C., church in 2003 after officials learned of allegations of "inappropriate behavior."

In a response filed Wednesday to Eden's amended complaint, an attorney for Oblate officials and Salesianum stated repeatedly that his clients deny any allegation of negligence or other wrongdoing, but that O'Neill has admitted molesting Eden.

"Defendant O'Neill has admitted molesting plaintiff. However, any inference of alleged wrongdoing on the part of the answering defendants is denied," attorney Mark Reardon wrote.

According to the lawsuit, Eden suppressed memories of his repeated molestation prior to 1985 until 2002, when the church sex abuse scandal made headlines. In addition to his personal injury claims, Eden alleges that church officials breached an agreement reached with his parents after an alleged molestation incident in 1985.

Eden claims that his parents were promised that if they did not sue church officials or report O'Neill to law enforcement authorities, O'Neill would be removed from his post at Salesianum, receive psychotherapy and not be put in a position in which he would be around other children.

O'Neill, who in court papers has denied the claims against him, was initially deposed in 2004, the same year the lawsuit was filed. He was deposed again in July but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination nearly 200 times.

O'Neill was deposed again in December after Superior Court Judge Calvin Scott Jr. ruled that he must answer questions about alleged incidents of abuse in Delaware and New Jersey, but not other states, because the criminal statute of limitations in those two states has expired. The judge also noted that O'Neill already had answered some questions in the 2004 deposition regarding his contact with Eden's family members.

According to Reardon's filing, which states that his clients should be dismissed as defendants, "O'Neill admitted his wrongdoing in December 2007."

Reardon declined to answer questions when contacted Thursday.

"We cannot comment on our court filing," he said.

Thomas Neuberger, an attorney representing Eden, also declined to comment, saying proceedings in the case have been placed under seal, and that a gag order is in place.

"Until that is lifted, we can't have any comment one way or the other," he said.

John Deckers, an attorney representing O'Neill, did not immediately return a telephone message.

Meanwhile, a funeral was to be held Friday for the Rev. Robert D. Kenney, an Oblate priest and former principal and president at Salesianum who was also named as a defendant in Eden's lawsuit. Kenney died of lymphoma on Jan. 9 at the age of 83.


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