Alleged Abuse Victims Testify in Diocese Matter

By Randall Chase
San Francisco Examiner
August 12 2010

Alleged victims of priest sex abuse testified in Delaware bankruptcy court Thursday against an effort by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington to prevent their lawsuits against local parishes from going to trial in state court.

Choking back tears, the victims told Judge Christopher Sontchi how they were abused as children and how the abuse has affected their lives.

The diocese has asked Sontchi to an extend a stay that delayed the start of the trials in state court while mediation aimed at a global resolution of claims from more than 130 alleged abuse victims continues in the bankruptcy case. Little progress has been made in five mediation sessions held so far, but two others are scheduled for the end of this month.

"We never thought mediation would be quick or easy," said diocese attorney Robert Brady, adding that a consensual resolution of scores of lawsuits by alleged abuse victims is in the best interests of all involved.

Sontchi heard from seven tearful victims of alleged abuse and from an attorney for another who is described as so filled with rage that he poses a threat to himself and others. The judge said he would rule on the diocese's request after hearing closing arguments Friday.

Brady suggested that if further mediation talks are not successful, the diocese may file its reorganization plan without input from alleged abuse survivors who sit on the diocese's official committee of unsecured creditors.

But James Stang, an attorney for the creditors committee, said the diocese's request to delay the parish lawsuits has nothing to do with the mediation process, which he said will continue.

Monsignor Thomas Cini, the diocese's vicar general and second-in-command, was unable to answer when Stang asked him why maintaining the stay was important to the mediation process. He also indicated that the diocese has not yet developed a formal reorganization plan.

Mary Dougherty, a member of the creditors committee who says she was abused by a priest in 1966, said that after participating in five rounds of talks, she has no faith in the mediation process.

Dougherty testified that she wants to proceed with her lawsuit not just for herself, but to let other victims know "that we didn't do anything wrong, that these men used the name of God, the sanctity of Christ, to abuse us, and then to treat us like trash and discard us."

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual assault, but Dougherty and her attorneys have spoken publicly about her abuse at the hands of the late Leonard Mackiewicz, who was among 20 priests identified by the diocese as confirmed child abusers.

Dougherty testified that she was saved from a violent rape by Mackiewicz during a Catholic youth group beach trip only after another priest happened upon the scene, tackled Mackiewicz and told her to run. She said she eventually confronted Mackiewicz in a confessional booth and told him that if he ever approached her or her siblings, whom he often would ask about in a lascivious manner, she would kill him.

"I meant it, and he knew I meant it," she said.

Another alleged abuse victim, identified in court only as John Doe No. 3, said his abuse by Francis DeLuca, another confirmed pedophile priest, has destroyed his life. DeLuca was jailed in New York a few years ago for molesting his own grandnephew.

Doe said he has struggled with depression and anxiety for decades, has trouble relating to people, and can't stand it when someone invades his space.

"I cringe when my own son puts his arm around me, imagine that," he said, choking back tears.

Doe is one of several victims of DeLuca whose trials are scheduled to start Oct. 25 but could be jeopardized if Sontchi grants the diocese's request to extend the stay.

"Let's just put all the cards on the table and let the judicial system play out," said John Vai, an alleged DeLuca victim whose lawsuit was on the eve of trial last October when the diocese's bankruptcy filing put it on hold. "Win, lose or draw, I want my story out on the table in front of a jury."

Another alleged DeLuca victim, a 60-year-old Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, took the stand Thursday identified only as John Doe No. 1. But in the middle of his testimony the witness, Felix Flanigan, asked Sontchi if could use his real name instead, drawing applause from several spectators in the crowded courtroom and a warning from the judge against further outbursts.

Flanigan said he had filed his lawsuit under a pseudonym to protect his family, which includes an uncle who was a priest and an aunt who was a nun. He said he decided to use his own name because after being asked to testify in Vai's trial last year, he was "outed" by leaders of a local parish.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.