Delco Man Files Sex Abuse Suit against Archdiocese

By Patti Mengers
Daily Times
March 16, 2011

A Delaware County man who claims that he was molested as a boy by a priest who was vacationing with his family, filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning against officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for not protecting him from the alleged abuser.

Frank Finnegan, of Collingdale, a postal worker, said around 1968 or 1969, the Rev. John Kline sexually abused him while on vacation with Finnegan's family on Long Beach Island in New Jersey.

Kline, a teacher at Roman Catholic High School who was in residence at St. Francis Xavier parish in Philadelphia, had befriended Finnegan's family when Finnegan's mother was parish secretary. The family rented a home on Long Beach Island for a month each summer.

"Over the years, Father Kline frequently visited the plaintiff's house and also went on vacations with plaintiff's family in New Jersey," according to the lawsuit.

Finnegan, 49, said he had repressed the traumatic event and only began to remember the abuse three years ago.

"He had dinner at our house every Thursday night for 30 years," Finnegan said at a press conference outside archdiocese Center City offices, adding that his mother was Kline's longtime parish secretary. "He betrayed us on a level that's hard to imagine."

But Finnegan said he wanted his name printed in an effort to support other victims and push for change.

"I don't want somebody who's 7 today to be me in 40 years," he said. There are families who "don't know monsters live among them" because the archdiocese has shielded the pedophiles, he said.

Finnegan, a postal carrier, was surrounded by his wife and three children as he spoke. He said his brother, Jack Finnegan, 58, who lives in California, was also abused by Kline in the 1960s and wanted his name made public, too.

Kline, who died in 1996 at age 73, was considered a member of the family, performing family weddings and baptisms, accompanying them on family trips and saying Mass in their home, Finnegan said.

The lawsuit says archdiocese officials put Finnegan in harm's way when they concealed knowledge of earlier abuse allegations against Kline, who is not among the priests identified as suspected pedophiles in a grand jury report released last month.

"I wanted his name on the record as someone who was an offender," Finnegan said of his lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

According to a published obituary, Kline died at the age of 73 in January 1996 after open heart surgery at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. At the time he was pastor of St. Thomas More parish in Chester County where he had been assigned in 1982. He had previously taught biology and art and directed the marching band at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia for almost 30 years before his retirement from there in 1981.

Finnegan said he had no memories of the sexual contact with Kline until about three years ago. Around 2007, he had a telephone conversation with an archdiocesan victims' assistance coordinator who he claims gathered information for archdiocesan attorneys to use against him.

Finnegan is seeking a settlement in excess of $50,000. In his lawsuit he maintains as a result of the abuse and the subsequent handling of his case by archdiocesan officials, he has suffered great pain of mind, body and spirit, has been prevented from performing daily activities and fully enjoying life and has sustained loss of earnings. He continues to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment, therapy and counseling.

The lawsuit names Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali, former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Rev. Msgr. William Lynn, who as Bevilacqua's secretary of clergy was responsible for investigating clerical sexual abuse, and Karen Becker, director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The lawsuit maintains that victim assistance coordinators discouraged victims from reporting abuse to law enforcement authorities and that the defendants maintained "secret archive files" of alleged abuse of minors by priests from law enforcement authorities.

The lawsuit also maintains that the defendants "maliciously lied to parishioners about the archdiocese's knowledge about the abuse by the priest" and "regularly found allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests as being unsubstantiated, even when there was very convincing evidence that the accusations were true."

While the plaintiff's alleged abuse would fall under Pennsylvania's old statue of limitations in terms of criminal charges, the lawsuit claims that the statute does not apply in this case "because the archdiocese fraudulently concealed material information and committed an affirmative independent act of concealment" that caused Finnegan "to relax his vigilance or deviate from his right of inquiry."

The lawsuit makes reference to the recent Philadelphia grand jury investigation that resulted in the Feb. 10 arrest of two priests, one former priest and one Catholic school lay teacher for allegedly sexually abusing boys in the Archdiocese. Lynn was also arrested in connection with the abuse because he was responsible for investigating allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

Finnegan's attorneys are Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn. and his associates, Dan Monahan of Chester County and Marci Hamilton of Bucks County.


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