Five Priests with Delaware County Ties Named in New Sex Abuse Lawsuits
By Timothy Logue
September 18, 2012
Nine alleged victims of clergy abuse have filed civil lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the Rev. Msgr. William Lynn and seven priests and former priests, including five with ties to Delaware County.
Attorney Jeff Anderson and co-counsels Marci Hamilton and Dan Monahan announced the filings at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Center City.
“Bringing these cases is important because until there is accountability it is difficult to begin a journey of healing,” said Anderson, who is also representing victims of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. “With the filing of these cases today, these courageous survivors can start to heal.”
Defendants in the eight lawsuits include Edward Avery, a former assistant pastor at St. Bernadette Church in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby and the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Chester; John H. Mulholland, former assistant pastor at St. Anastasia Church in Newtown Square and Blessed Virgin Mary in Darby; the Rev. John P. Schmeer, former assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Haverford; the Rev. Robert L. Brennan, former assistant pastor at St. Pius X Church in Marple Township and St. George Church in Glenolden; and Francis X. Trauger, former assistant pastor at Holy Cross Church in Springfield and parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church in Aston.
Also named are the Rev. Msgr. Francis Feret of St.Timothy's School in Philadelphia and the Rev. Joseph J Gallagher of Ascension of our Lord Church in Philadelphia.
Avery, Mulholland and Trauger have been defrocked; Brennan has been out of ministry since January 2006; Feret was found unsuitable for ministry in May 2012; Gallagher was placed on administrative leave following the 2011 grand jury report on sexual abuse by Philadelphia priests; Schmeer’s ministry has been permanently restricted since November 2004;
A former Haverford resident, who was removed from active ministry in 2003 Avery pleaded guilty in March to abusing an altar boy in 1999 and is serving a two-and-a-half to five year prison sentence.
The suit against Avery was filed by a former St. Bernadette student who claims the pastor pulled down his pants and fondled him on multiple occasions as a form of discipline. The abuse took place in the confessional and rectory, according to the suit, which also names the school as a defendant.
Lawyers for the plaintiff claim the other defendants "ignored abuse reports" about Avery for more than 10 years and failed to reveal he was among 35 priests identified by the Archdiocese in 1994 as being "guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.”
Avery served as assistant pastor at St. Bernadette’s from June 1970 to June 1972 and at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Chester from June 1972 to February 1976.
Chaput, Rigali, Lynn and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are named as defendants in every one of the suits, each of which outlines how church officials protected predator priests and covered up prior allegations and evidence of abuse.
A former secretary of the clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn was convicted in June of one count of endangering the welfare of a child abused by Avery. The abuse happened five years after the archdiocese identified Avery as an abuser, according to the suit.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue the statute of limitations should be extended because their clients did not know until Lynn’s conviction that “objective information existed that cast doubt” on years of denials by the Archdiocese that past abuse had occurred.
Schmeer, who ministered at Sacred Heart from June 1964 to June 1965 and resided there intermittently until 1971, is a defendant in two of the suits.
In one, he is accused of fondling a high school boy's genitals while serving as a guidance counselor at Roman Catholic High School in 1969. The school is also named as a defendant.
In another, Schmeer and the Rev. Francis X. Trauger are accused of sexually abusing Michael W. McDonnell, an altar boy who also worked at the rectory at St. Titus Church in Norristown.
Trauger was assigned to Holy Cross from November 1976 to June 1980 and to St. Joseph from June 1989 to June 1993.
“As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by the clergy, I can tell you that there is no doubt that the conspiracy to cover-up the grave moral actions by the clergy started long before these tragedies ever became public," said McDonnell, who attended the press conference. “It was protocol. It is today that courage brings me here, it is today that more will be revealed.”
Brennan, an assistant pastor at St. Pius from June 1964 to June 1970 and at St. George from June 1981 to June 1986, is accused of fondling a fifth grade altar boy at Resurrection of Our Lord Church in Philadelphia, where he served from December 1993 to June 2004.
The suit claims former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua knew of previous incidents involving Brennan and young boys dating back to 1988. “No action was taken to remove Defendant Brennan, ratifying his behavior and implicitly approving (his) access to minors for the purpose of sexually abusing them,” the suit states.
Bevilacqua, who died earlier this year, is also accused of covering up for Brennan by falsely claiming he was receiving treatment for Lyme disease when the priest was actually receiving therapy in response to complaints of abuse,
Mulholland is accused of molesting a young girl while serving as an assistant pastor at St. Anastasia from June 1968 to June 1973 and of engaging in sadomasochistic acts with an altar boy he met at Blessed Virgin Mary, where he served from June 1973 to September 1977.
Relations with the boy allegedly continued for another five years while Mulholland was assigned to Holy Child Parish in Philadelphia.
Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, released the following statement Tuesday afternoon.
"We have not received copies of the cases that the plaintiffs have said they intend to file, so we cannot provide more detailed information on those particular lawsuits at this time," it said.
"We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse. We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance."