Lawyers Say Church Leaders Knew of Abuse


August 7, 2008

Correspondence released Wednesday by lawyers of an alleged sexual abuse victim and two priests suggest Catholic leaders knew years ago about allegations against a former priest and teacher at a Wilmngton, Del., high school, who continued to work at other schools, including Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers.

The letters contradict Catholic officials' claims this week they were not aware of sex-abuse accusations lodged against the Rev. Dennis Killion until a lawsuit was filed Monday in New Castle County Superior Court.

The order of priests to which Killion belongs - Oblates of St. Francis de Sales - said that day Killion, had been placed on administrative leave "after learning this morning about a lawsuit alleging abuse by the priest."

"The idea that they first knew there was a problem here was when we filed this lawsuit ... that is just categorically wrong," said Bartholomew J. Dalton, one of three lawyers representing the four men suing Killion. "We felt, based on the statements that were made by the Oblates, that we should release at least this part of the case to show that in fact they had knowledge."

Officials from the Catholic dioceses of Wilmington, where Killion was a faculty member at Salesianum School, and Venice, where Killion taught at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers until June, said they were unaware of the letters.

Bishop Verot's principal, the Rev. Chris Beretta, said he hadn't seen them. He also would not comment on whether it would bother him to find out religious leaders had known of prior accusations and didn't inform him before sending Killion to Fort Myers.

"I really don't have any reaction," he said. "I don't have any knowledge."

The Rev. Kevin Nadolski, an Oblates spokesman, said he stands by his earlier comments the order was not aware of sexual abuse by Killion. He said the letters reflect the "pastoral style of the Oblates, especially when reaching out to listen to concerns about its members."

Nadolski also said the Oblates would respond "as soon as possible" to the issues.

The letters are between John M.S. Doe, one of the four men suing, and the Revs. James J. Greenfield and Joseph G. Morrissey, the current and former heads of the Oblates' Wilmington/Philadelphia Province.

Doe, who sued anonymously because publicizing details of his abuse would compound his injuries, alleges Killion first assaulted him in 1985 when he was a Salesianum freshman. According to the lawsuit, Killion took a scooper of ice, grabbing the boy's pants, pulling them away and saying: "It would be cold if I dropped this down your pants, wouldn't it?"

According to the suit, Killion also shoved his hand down the boy's pants in another assault. Dalton said one of his four clients reported the allegations to school officials in 1986, the year Killion left Salesianum.

In May 2002, Doe had an interview with Oblates' attorney Mark Reardon about Killion, who by this time was a faculty member at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia.

In a letter dated Nov. 1, 2002, Morrissey thanked Doe for "the confidential, compassionate, and professional manner in which" he addressed his concerns about Killion.

Morrissey's letter went on to say Killion reported to him and a counselor regularly.

"Both of these men are aware of the concerns that have been raised concerning Father Killion," Morrissey said. "They have been instructed to contact me immediately if there appears to be any indication whatsoever of any type of inappropriate behavior on Father Killion's part. By all accounts, Father Killion's professional and personal integration with students has been beyond reproach, and he continues to do good work in his ministry."

Nadolski said a lot was being contrived through the anonymous letters. For example, he said there are a lot of reasons for Killion to pursue counseling.

"The things we are seeing in the letter, from somebody who is not willing to stand by the letter that he has written, is something that we're struggling to defend because of the way in which it is not being supported by someone who is not willing to stand behind it."

According to the lawsuit, the abuse occurred between 1983 and 1986 when Killion taught at Salesianum, an all-boys Catholic high school in Wilmington.

Two of the four victims reported their abuse, said John C. Manly, a California attorney representing the men.

"They were told he was going to be transferred and to keep quiet," Manly said.

Killion, who had been working as activities director at Verot, was recently assigned to St. Bede the Venerable Parish in Holland, Pa., as associate pastor. The church, which runs a school adjacent to the site, announced Killion's assignment Sunday.

Cardinal Justin Rigali withdrew that assignment Monday, officials from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said.


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