Delaware: Diocese Faces Eighth Sex-abuse Lawsuit

By Beth Miller
The News Journal

July 17, 2008

A 60-year-old Virginia man Wednesday filed suit against the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington -- the eighth person to allege he was sexually abused by the Rev. Francis G. DeLuca.

Michael Schulte, who was an altar boy at St. John the Beloved Church in Milltown, says DeLuca abused him twice in 1961 and 1962, when he was 13 to 14 years old. The suit, which names the church as a co-defendant, says the abuse contributed to numerous problems in Schulte's life, including alcohol abuse, two failed marriages, depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues.

With Schulte's suit, filed in Kent County Superior Court, victims have claimed abuses by DeLuca covering a 45-year span, from 1961-2006. In the most recent case, DeLuca was arrested in Syracuse and convicted of abusing a teenage relative there.

DeLuca, now 78, is retired in Syracuse, where he is forbidden to serve as a priest. The diocese has asked Pope Benedict XVI to "laicize" him, removing all his priestly faculties, a request that still is pending, according to diocese spokesman Robert G. Krebs.

Schulte stood silently, with trembling lips, as Wilmington attorney Stephen J. Neuberger outlined his experiences with the priest and church officials.

Schulte alleges that DeLuca gave him alcohol and raped him during trips to Philadelphia and Richmond, Va. He reported the abuse to his parents, who confronted church officials. They sent another priest -- the Rev. Douglas Dempster -- to investigate the allegations. The interview took place in the family's bomb shelter, and Schulte says Dempster warned him and his family never to speak to anyone of the matter.

Dempster and DeLuca were named in 2006 by Bishop Michael Saltarelli on a list of 20 diocesan priests against whom the church had received credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Schulte says he complained to church officials about the abuse and the fact that DeLuca was still in the company of children in 1962, 1993 and 2002 -- all to no avail.

Schulte says he learned DeLuca was still ministering at a Wilmington parish -- St. Joseph's on the Brandywine -- in 1993 and renewed his complaint to church authorities. The suit says Monsignor Clement Lemon confronted DeLuca, who admitted that "something" happened with Schulte, describing it as "physical closeness." That year, Bishop Robert Mulvee allowed DeLuca to retire to Syracuse, his hometown.

In 2002, after the clergy abuse scandal emerged nationally, Schulte learned that DeLuca was visiting Delaware regularly to take two boys camping. He says he reported this to the diocese and to the Delaware Attorney General's Office.

Diocese attorney Anthony G. Flynn said church records show that Schulte reported, in fall 1965, the abuse that had occurred several years before and that DeLuca was removed from ministry at St. John the Beloved in January 1966.

But, he said, that difference in accounts of when Schulte first reported the abuse does not diminish his complaint.

"We don't want to gloss over the fact that Mr. Schulte was a victim of Francis DeLuca," Flynn said.

Schulte's attorneys said the suit relies, in part, on church records provided during other DeLuca-related suits and information gathered in interviews conducted by The Neuberger Firm. It says Monsignor Thomas Cini apologized to another DeLuca victim for the diocese's long-term "cover-up" of the priest's actions and admitted it was part of the institution's past policy of transferring abusive priests.

Flynn strongly denied there was any such pattern or policy.

"I don't want to skip over the fact that Father DeLuca was transferred," he said. "But there is no evidence that the diocese transferred priests known to be abusive. It may have happened. There simply is no record of it and certainly no admission of it."

But the suit alleges that DeLuca's abusive practice started at his first assignment in Salisbury, Md., where he served from 1958-60 and abused several altar boys. That abuse was reported to Bishop Michael Hyle, the suit says, and Hyle transferred DeLuca to St. John the Beloved.

"This case is about ensuring once and for all that DeLuca will never again have the opportunity to sexually abuse young children," said Stephen J. Neuberger, one of the attorneys who represents Schulte. "This has to stop and children have to be protected."

DeLuca is not named in this suit. He and the diocese have already settled a complaint by Robert Quill of Florida, who received an undisclosed sum, an acknowledgement of the abuse and an apology from church officials.

The suit is the 13th filed under the provisions of the 2007 Child Victim's Act, which eliminated the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse and provided a two-year window during which previously time-barred cases could be filed. That window closes July 10, 2009.


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