Clergy Abuse in Delaware: Ex-Priest's Attorney Withdraws from Cases

By Sean O'Sullivan
News Journal
October 21, 2010

DOVER -- When trial starts Monday in the first of the seven priest abuse lawsuits expected to could go forward this year, the man at the center of the charges, defrocked priest Francis DeLuca, will not be represented by counsel and will likely not be in court.

Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. on Wednesday allowed DeLuca's attorney, Stephen P. Casarino, to withdraw from all seven cases.

Casarino told Vaughn that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington stopped paying his bills after it declared bankruptcy last October.

Casarino said he expected he eventually would be paid until last week, when diocese officials made it clear to him they would not be paying his past or future bills.

He added that DeLuca, 81 -- who has been convicted in New York state of sexually abusing a child and has income only from Social Security -- did not have any money to pay his legal bills.

Casarino said DeLuca also is in failing health, having recently had heart surgery, and is suffering from depression due to his legal woes, so he is not likely to make the trip from New York state.

An attorney for plaintiff John Vai -- Thomas C. Crumplar -- did not oppose Casarino's withdrawal as long as it would not delay Monday's scheduled trial.

Vaughn noted that if DeLuca fails to appear, DeLuca's sworn depositions -- in which he admitted molesting Vai and others, according to attorneys -- can be used in his place.

In his lawsuit against DeLuca and St. Elizabeth's parish, Vai charges that DeLuca molested him multiple times starting in the late 1960s when Vai was 11. Crumplar said in court that DeLuca had convinced Vai's parents to let him spend time with the child because he claimed to be training Vai to become a priest.

Vai alleges that parish officials failed to protect him and is seeking damages under the Delaware Child Victims Act.

His case was set to go to trial last October but was stopped when the diocese filed for bankruptcy protection.

Earlier this year, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi allowed Vai's case and several others -- all involving DeLuca -- to go forward in state court against individual parishes.

However, attorneys for the plaintiffs in those cases have expressed concern that this round of trials also may be stopped at the last minute by the individual parishes filing for bankruptcy protection.

Attorney Colleen Shields, who is representing St. Elizabeth's, said Wednesday that she could not comment on any possible bankruptcy filing by the parish and as far as she knows there is no plan to do so.

Attorney Kevin J. Connors, who is representing St. John the Beloved, gave a similar answer.

David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, expressed regret that Vai would not get a chance to confront his abuser in court and skepticism about reports of DeLuca's ill health.

"Many times we've seen shrewd predators deceive judges and others about their physical and mental condition, often feigning illnesses when in fact they are in good shape," he said.

Contact Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or

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