Lawyers in Priest Case Say Church Knew of Sex Claims

By Kathleen Brady Shea
Philadelphia Inquirer

August 7, 2008

Attorneys for four men who filed a priest sex-abuse lawsuit on Monday released letters yesterday that they say suggest church officials knew of the allegations for more than a decade.

According to the letters, officials of the Rev. Dennis Killion's order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, met in April and in 2002 with one of the four alleged victims whom he is accused of sexually abusing in the 1980s at Salesianum High School, an all-boys school in Wilmington.

A news release that the order issued Monday said its leader put Killion on administrative leave after learning of the lawsuit that day.

"Respecting the standards that protect children from abuse, we immediately removed him from ministry and will authorize an independent investigation to learn the facts surrounding the allegations," the Rev. James J. Greenfield, the head of the order, or provincial, said in the release.

Bartholomew J. Dalton of Wilmington, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said the statement prompted the release of the letters yesterday.

"You just can't sit back and not respond," Dalton said. "They made statements that we believe are not credible."

The lawyers said that although the order took action quickly after the lawsuit was filed, it in fact knew of the allegations as early as 1996 but, according to the letters, did not act on them.

The order also responded yesterday, issuing a second news release.

"These letters reflect the pastoral style of the oblates, especially when reaching out to listen to concerns about its members," the release said. "As soon as possible, the oblates will respond in a way that addresses the facts related to the issues raised in these correspondence and the lawsuit filed that includes a man who has desired anonymity by use of the name John Doe."

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the archdiocese had no knowledge of the letters and had received assurances from the order that nothing in Killion's background made him unsuitable for ministering to children.

Farrell said that if the order had knowledge of allegations that it did not share, "it would be very distressing news."

She said the order answers to Rome, not to Cardinal Justin Rigali. The cardinal has the sole authority to determine who can serve in the archdiocese, and he stripped Killion of that privilege on Monday.

In one of the letters the lawyers released yesterday, Greenfield, the provincial, responded to an April 2 meeting with the plaintiff listed as John Doe in the lawsuit, complimenting him on the frank and professional way in which he shared "details and concerns" about Killion.

"While there are more than a few reasons for you to wonder about the appropriateness of how your complaints and concerns have been dealt with, from this point forward I feel that the two of us have cleared the air in matters concerning Father Killion," the letter said.

A second letter to the same plaintiff dated Nov. 1, 2002, is from the Rev. Joseph G. Morrissey, who says he became the provincial in January 1996.

"At that time I was generally appraised of the incident to which you refer in your May 9th [2002] meeting," the letter says.

The letter then refers to regular contact between "Father Killion, his on-site supervisors, as well as his local religious superiors and counselors."

Under scrutiny, "Father Killion's professional and personal integration with students has been beyond reproach, and he continues to do good work in the ministry," the letter says.

After Killion left Salesianum, he served briefly at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster and then for more than a decade at Father Judge High School for Boys in Philadelphia, where he was assistant principal and activities director. For the last two years, he was activities director at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla.

Killion was scheduled to begin working on Aug. 18 at St. Bede the Venerable parish in Bucks County; however, the archdiocese withdrew its approval of Killion's reassignment after learning of the allegations from the order.

"If someone accused of abusing children gets transferred, transferred and transferred with no consequences, it's unlikely that he'll stop being a child abuser," Dalton said.

Dalton said it took litigation - possible because Delaware changed its law a year ago - to prevent Killion from having access to children.

Delaware's Child Victim's Act gives victims of child abuse two years from July 10, 2007, to sue perpetrators and the institutions found to be negligent in protecting them. Before, victims had only two years from the date of the abuse to sue. Efforts to pass similar legislation in Pennsylvania remain stalled.

Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3021 or


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