Lawsuit Paints Dioceseas Haven for Pedophiles

Associated Press, carried in The Record
November 2, 1994

Group sex between Roman Catholic priests and young parishioners.

Clergy members plying children with alcohol and pornography. A priest who solicited sex acts from a person whose sex-related sins he'd heard in confession.

A sweeping class-action lawsuit that accuses church leaders of covering up years of sex abuse paints a sordid picture of the Diocese of Camden as a haven for pedophile priests and a nightmare for intimidated young victims.

The suit filed by lawyer Stephen Rubino accuses the church of covering up the alleged assaults and transferring priests to new parishes without telling the new church about offenders past problems.

Also named as defendants were the National Catholic Conference of Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference of Washington, its sister agency.

The allegations are uncorroborated.

Of the accused priests, five have criminal records for sex offenses, nine have been accused in civil cases and settled out of court, and six are dead. One priest who was named in the suit as a perpetrator but not listed as a defendant called the court action an outrage.

"Some of these priests have been dead for years. This is a hatchet job on us priests, grabbing for straws. This is just preposterous. I can't imagine anyone making a statement against me like this," he said.

The diocese, which has been rocked by such claims before, plans to fight the lawsuit instead of settling out of court, spokesman George Seiter said Tuesday.

Bishop James T. McHugh, one of 27 priests named as defendants, has said the suit is based on a "twisted legal theory" and that there was no coverup. McHugh is named as a "co-conspirator" but is not accused of sexual impropriety.

He was out of town and could not be reached Tuesday, All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

Lawyers for some of the accused still hadn't seen the 276-page document Tuesday, the day after it was filed in Atlantic County Superior Court.

One said he was told he would have to wait until Friday because the county was sending out for copies. He declined to comment.

Rubino has negotiated out-of-court settlements in similar cases before, several of them with the Diocese of Camden, which has reportedly paid out over $ 3 million in claims since 1990.

Rubino, who is Roman Catholic, said he had no ax to grind with the diocese.

"I didn't invent this. What lawyers do is investigate cases and bring them forward. The Diocese of Camden would never have paid me as much money as they have if they didn't think there were valid claims.

"People don't part with money easily," he said.

Rubino also represented Steven Cook, who claimed last year to have been molested by the Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, but withdrew a lawsuit after saying his memory was faulty.

The Bernardin case pointed up the dubious reliability of repressed memories, which have led to numerous sex cases inside and outside the church. Analysts say therapy can help people remember long-forgotten traumas such as sex abuse, but critics say such treatment can result in manufactured memories.

The suit, filed on behalf of 38 people who say they were sexually abused by priests, relies on decades-old memories, but none were obtained through therapy, Rubino said.

The victims claim to have suffered from depression, humiliation, retarded sexual development, self-destructive behavior, and a loss of faith in God and the church as a result of the alleged attacks.

With the exception of the conspiracy allegation, which the diocese rejected, Seiter said it was impossible to determine the validity of the other claims, which have not been corroborated by authorities.

Among them:

That Rev. James P. McIntyre, now director of priest personnel for the diocese, and two other priests sexually abused James or John Smith, brothers who were parishioners at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church in Cherry Hill between 1963 and 1966. McIntyre couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Diocesan offices were closed and Seiter, reached at McHugh's residence, said McIntyre wasn't talking to reporters.

That Monsignor Augustine Seidenberg, now pastor at St. Augustine Church in Ocean City, masturbated while forcing young girls to sit in his lap during confessions at St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church in Brigantine and Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Cape May. Four of the victims were identified only as Jane Doe with their initials attached. The other was identified as Diane Fetters-Murphy.

Seidenberg was out of town Tuesday, said a man who answered the telephone at St. Augustine.

That in 1961, the late Rev. Joseph P. Barber raped a 6-year-old girl at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Berlin. The victim, identified only as Jane Doe E.A.G., remembered the alleged incident this year when she returned to the church to attend Mass, Rubino said.


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