|Phila. Abuse Suit Targets Catholic Order
By David O'Reilly
June 19, 2009
A nephew of the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor says he was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest while a student at Father Judge High School in Northeast Philadelphia.
Attorneys for Rich Green, O'Connor's 31-year-old nephew, announced yesterday that they were filing a lawsuit in Delaware against the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, whose Wilmington-Philadelphia Province dispatches teachers to schools from Boston to Florida.
The suit alleges that the late Rev. John M. McDevitt, an Oblate, abused Green in the early 1990s when Green was a 14-year-old freshman at Judge and McDevitt was his religion teacher.
According to the complaint, McDevitt knew the boy was O'Connor's nephew and threatened to fail him in religion if he did not accede to his advances. The abuse allegedly occurred several times a week for about six months.
Green's first report of abuse was made in March by e-mail to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which does not include Delaware. According to archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell, the Oblates assigned McDevitt to teach in the archdiocese - at Northeast Catholic High School from 1971 to 1980 and at Judge from 1988 to 1993.
In a statement yesterday, Farrell said that Green had been put in contact with the archdiocesan victim-assistance office, which then notified the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and the Oblates.
The Rev. Kevin Nadolski, an Oblates spokesman, declined yesterday to comment directly on the lawsuit but said the order's victim-assistance coordinator had offered Green counseling and transportation to counseling.
J. Michael Reck, an attorney for Green, said McDevitt had threatened to physically injure the boy if he reported the abuse. Until this spring, Green had told no one; he left Judge after his freshman year.
Reck said Green had been a devout Catholic before the abuse but "turned away" from the faith because of it. He is unmarried and lives in New Jersey. He did not attend the attorneys' news conferences in Wilmington and New York City yesterday.
O'Connor, who grew up in West Philadelphia, became a priest of the archdiocese in 1945 and was archbishop of New York from 1984 to 2002.
Reck said yesterday that although McDevitt had abused Green in Pennsylvania, the case qualified for litigation in Delaware because the Oblates had moved McDevitt to Philadelphia from Delaware knowing that he had a history of molesting boys.
Nadolski said he did not know whether the order had been aware of any abuse allegations against McDevitt before transferring him to Philadelphia.
McDevitt died in 1999.
In 2007, the Delaware legislature created a two-year legal window allowing persons sexually abused as minors to file civil charges against their abusers even if the statute of limitations had expired. That window will close July 9.
According to Reck, several former students of McDevitt's at Salesianum High School in Wilmington have filed lawsuits against the Oblates and named him as their abuser. The Oblates own and operate Salesianum.
A 2006 Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese did not identify McDevitt as an abuser.
Thomas Neuberger, a Wilmington lawyer who said he represented dozens of clients alleging they were sexually abused in Delaware, estimated that about 130 victims had come forward since the statute window had opened. Of those, he said, about 100 named Catholic priests as their abusers.
Neuberger said he anticipated the vast majority of claims to be settled out of court.
Reck said his team, which has about 45 abuse cases in Delaware, would not make any confidential settlements that concealed the abuser's name or the amount of the settlement.
Both Neuberger and Reck described the Oblates as "uncooperative" and difficult to work with, and said they had refused to turn over to authorities their records on members accused of abuse.
"It's like dealing with the mob," Neuberger said in an interview Wednesday. "They try to humiliate, crush, and destroy anyone who accuses their people."
Nadolski, the Oblates' spokesman, denied assertions by Neuberger that the order or Salesianum was contemplating bankruptcy protection in response to the many abuse lawsuits. "It's not a conversation point for us," he said.
He acknowledged that the order had refused to turn over its records on abusive members, but said, "We would consider doing so if we thought it would help with healing." Denying that the Oblates had treated accusers harshly, he described the order's response to abuse allegations as "compassionate."
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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