Man Molested by St. Mary Magdalen Priest in 1971 Gets Hearing Today

By Nicholas Phillips
Riverfront Times
February 16, 2011

Paul Alvino was abused by a priest in 1971 off church property - who's responsible?

If a local Catholic priest with a known history of sexually abusing children molests a young boy, but does it off of church property, is the Archdiocese of St. Louis legally responsible?

Nope, decided a 22nd Circuit judge last March -- the first time a Missouri judge had ever ruled in the Church's favor based on where the clergy sex abuse took place (see our feature, "Sins of the Father").

Today, the man who brought such a lawsuit -- Paul J. Alvino of Mehlville, formerly of St. Mary Magdalen in South City -- is appearing before a state appeals court, hoping that ruling will be reversed.

Alvino claims that the late Fr. Thomas Cooper abused him during a trip out to the country back in 1971 - an experience that Alvino says he immediately erased from his memory, but recovered in a therapy session nine years ago.

Recovered memories are notoriously sketchy, but there's plenty of evidence to bolster this one: the local Church hierarchy exchanged letters back in the late 60s about how to handle "the problem of Father Cooper." Furthermore, Cooper had previously been sued by another man for very similar allegations, and settled out of court -- a matter which Alvino knew nothing about.

On the other hand, it's inaccurate to state that the Archdiocese totally refuses to take responsibility: according to sources that decline to be named, the Church has offered financial assistance to Alvino which would cover his therapy. However, negotiations for a settlement have apparently gone nowhere.

As Church lawyer Bernie Huger explained to RFT last summer in general terms (and not about this specific case): "If a person makes a demand that we consider to be exorbitant, then we'll have to go to court."

As for Alvino, he says this isn't about the money for him -- it's about getting his "day in court," being able to tell his story before a jury and judge, and the Archdiocese taking some blame publicly.

"I go to sleep thinking about this, and I wake up thinking about it," he says.

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