Parents Claim Priest Abuse LED to Son's Death

By Randall Chase
The Capital
November 14, 2008

DOVER, Del. — A New Castle County couple has sued Catholic church officials, alleging that sexual abuse by a priest led to their son's suicide.

William and Othell Heaney filed the lawsuit Thursday in New Castle County Superior County on behalf of their late son, Kevin Heaney.

The lawsuit claims the Rev. Edward Dudzinski repeatedly sexually abused their son, who was 19 years old when he shot himself in 1987. The lawsuit claims Dudzinski abused Kevin at least 100 times over a three-year period, beginning when he was 10 years old.

Named as defendants are the Diocese of Wilmington, St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Wilmington, and Dudzinski, who currently lives in Herndon, Va.

Dudzinski was identified by former Bishop Michael Saltarelli in 2006 as one of 20 diocesan priests substantiated as child abusers.

Diocesan spokesman Bob Krebs declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

A telephone message left at the last known telephone number for Dudzinski was not immediately returned.

"This case is the most tragic example of what happens when an institution cares more about money and power than it does about children, the most vulnerable members of our society," said attorney Thomas Neuberger, whose law firm represents the Heaneys.

While claiming that abuse by Dudzinski led Heaney into a downward spiral that included depression, rebellion against authority, drug abuse and several suicide attempts, the lawsuit also claims a pattern of behavior by church officials in protecting suspected pedophiles.

The lawsuit refers, for example, to a memo written in 1977 by one of Dudzinski's supervisors recounting parishioners' concerns about how much time Dudzinski, then a seminarian, was spending with young boys and the late hours he kept with some families.

"I see a pattern in Ed's ministry where he has a need to be with young boys and has often given me seemingly legitimate reasons for being with them," the Rev. Edward Aigner wrote after a mother complained that Dudzinski pressured her to allow her son to accompany him on an overnight trip. "While gut feelings are difficult to document, I find that this incident allows me to recommend that Ed seek counsel ... "

"This is before he became a priest, this is before he was ordained," said Stephen Neuberger, attorney for the plaintiffs.

After leaving the diocese in 1985, Dudzinski moved to Virginia and obtained a license to work as a counselor. He was placed on probation in 2002 for having a personal relationship with a minor client, who reportedly shared his bed on at least 10 occasions. Dudzinski failed to comply with the probation order but surrendered his license in 2003 after Virginia authorities learned that he had been sued for $11 million for allegedly assaulting a teenage boy while still a priest.

The lawsuit also states that in a deposition last month, Monsignor Thomas Cini, vicar general for administration for the diocese of Wilmington, admitted that the diocese has been aware of the risks of priests sexually abusing children since at least the 1940s.

According to the lawsuit, Bishop John FitzMaurice wrote in 1947 of the struggle he was having in deciding whether to admit seminarian Edward Carley into the ministry. Carley was among the priests revealed by the diocese in 2006 to have substantiated abuse allegations against them.

FitzMaurice wrote in July 1947 that prudence told him to pass up Carley as an applicant, "but the heart and other considerations whisper me to take and give him a chance."

In a letter five months later, FitzMaurice again acknowledged that there was some risk in accepting Carley, according to the lawsuit.

"I do not believe it is excessive, and I fell that the need for priests at this time in Wilmington is such to justify the venture," the bishop wrote.


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