Delaware: Man Sues Church Officials over Alleged Abuse

Associated Press, carried in Daily Times
May 8, 2008

DOVER — A New Castle County man filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming that he was sexually abused as a child by a Franciscan priest.

Matthias C. Conaty claims in the Superior Court lawsuit that the Rev. Paul L. Daleo abused him while Conaty was a student at Saint Edmond's Academy, a Catholic boys school in Wilmington.

The lawsuit claims church officials knew Daleo was pedophile but failed to protect Conaty and other children from him or disclose Daleo's behavior to students, their families and law enforcement officials.

"Instead, defendants ignored and/or covered up the sexual abuse of plaintiff and others by Father Daleo that had already occurred," states the complaint, which accuses church officials of engaging in a "conspiracy of silence."

According to the complaint, Daleo began abusing Conaty around 1978 when Conaty was in the fourth grade, and continued to abuse him for about four years. According to the lawsuit, the abuse included one incident in a bathroom stall while Daleo was dressed in a clown suit for a school event.

Bart Dalton, a Wilmington attorney helping to represent Conaty, said the criminal statute of limitations for Daleo's alleged conduct had expired.

"It is only because of the civil window for sexual abuse that we can expose Daleo, the diocese and St. Edmonds and get accountability for the innocent children they habitually and callously destroyed," said Chipman Flowers Jr., a Wilmington attorney who is also representing Conaty.

Legislators passed a law last year abolishing Delaware's two-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits for victims of child sex abuse and allowing a two-year "lookback" period during which lawsuits previously barred by the statute of limitations can be brought anew. Under the law, an institution that employed a pedophile can be sued if it was grossly negligent in allowing the sexual abuse of a child.

Conaty's lawsuit accuses church officials of gross negligence in failing to protect Conaty and other students from abuse, and in the hiring, retention and supervision of Daleo.

"My client has a real interest in shining a light here on abuse and a process to conceal that abuse that needs to be known," Dalton said.

Defendants in the lawsuit include Daleo, St. Edmond's, the Diocese of Wilmington, the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Province of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis, and the Brothers of the Holy Cross, a religious order that founded and operates the school.

Calls to Daleo's home in Jersey City, N.J., were not answered Wednesday.

Brian Tomlinson, provincial minister for the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in Union City, N.J., and Larry Atkinson, vocation director for the eastern province of the Holy Cross Brothers in Flushing, N.Y., did not immediately return telephone messages.

"I know there have been other cases," said a man who answered the telephone at the Capuchin office in Union City and identified himself only as Father Nick.

The (Wilmington) News Journal reported in 2006 that Capuchin officials confirmed two confidential settlements in the mid-1990s with men who said they were sexually abused as children by Daleo. The newspaper quoted the Rev. John LoSasso, former provincial for the friars, as saying Daleo was "remorseful" when officials confronted him with the allegations.

"It hurts the order when we think that a member would do the unthinkable," LoSasso told the newspaper.

Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the Diocese of Wilmington, said he was not familiar with the lawsuit filed Wednesday and could not comment.

Michael Marinelli, headmaster at St. Edmond's, said the school had not been served with the complaint and that he could not comment without knowing what the allegations are. He noted, however, that the alleged abuse happened more than two decades ago and long before he arrived at the school.

"Today, of course, we have all the appropriate measures in place to protect the safety and welfare of our students," he said.


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