Family Sues Diocese over Alleged Abuse, Suicide

By Sean O'sullivan
The News Journal

November 14, 2008

The family of an alleged victim of childhood sexual abuse is suing the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, charging the abuse drove him to suicide years later.

William and Othell Heaney charge that the Rev. Edward F. Dudzinski sexually abused their son Kevin, starting in 1978 when he was a 10-year-old student in Dudzinski's religion class at St. Mary Magdalen elementary school in Brandywine Hundred.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in New Castle County Superior Court, claims the abuse lasted at least three years and led to a dramatic change in Kevin Heaney's personality and a downward spiral including drug abuse and numerous suicide attempts, ending in March 1987, when Kevin Heaney took his own life with a shotgun.

Diocese officials declined comment as they have on similar lawsuits in the past.

Dudzinski was one of 20 priests who were identified by church officials in 2006 as having "admitted, corroborated or otherwise sustained" allegations of abuse against them.

According to the Heaneys' attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, Dudzinski left the diocese in 1985 and moved to Virginia, following a subsequent abuse allegation by a different victim.

Neuberger said that according to news accounts, Dudzinski settled a civil lawsuit in Virginia with that victim out of court in 1989 for an undisclosed sum.

"This case is the most tragic example of what happens when an institution cares more about money and power than it does about children. We expect this will be the first of several priest-abuse suicide cases," Neuberger said.

According to the lawsuit, the diocese was warned about Dudzinski at least as far back as 1977, when a parishioner complained about improper conduct by the priest with her son.

A supervisor then warned of scandalous repercussions due to Dudzinski's behavior in a memo. "If only the diocese had heeded the warnings of its own employee, Kevin would still be with his family today," Neuberger said.

This is the 26th lawsuit that Neuberger has filed against the diocese under the Delaware Child Victim's Act of 2007.

The act created a two-year window that suspends the statute of limitations on civil cases related to childhood sexual abuse. It closes in July 2009.


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