N.J. Bishop Rejects Claims of a Coverup He Said the Sex-Abuse Suit Was " Outrageous" and Motivated by Money
By Maureen Graham and Larry Lewis
November 4, 1994
A wide-ranging lawsuit filed this week that accuses the Catholic Diocese of Camden of protecting pedophile priests for more than half a century is laden with "outrageous charges" and amounts to a "new type of terrorism" against the church, Bishop James T. McHugh said yesterday.
The express purpose of the suit, Bishop McHugh said, was to force "the diocese to pay exorbitant sums of money to the claimants and their lawyers."
In an interview last night, the bishop said the complaint "has no basis in fact and is most outrageous."
Three days after the class-action suit was filed, Bishop McHugh countered with a sophisticated legal strategy that will attack the credibility of the suit. A letter from Bishop McHugh detailing the church's position will be read at all Masses in the diocese Saturday and Sunday.
The bishop did not speak to the accuracy of the individual allegations against 30 diocesan priests named in the suit, but rejected totally the allegation that the church covered up sexual abuse by priests.
"I'd give my right arm" to be able to defend the allegations against individual priests named in the class-action suit, the bishop said, especially the Rev. James P. McIntyre, the diocese's director of priest personnel.
Bishop McHugh said speaking out publicly on individual claims could jeopardize the church's defense in court.
The 275-page compilation of alleged sexual abuse cases by priests that was filed Monday in New Jersey state court in Atlantic City will be attacked as a lie from church pulpits this weekend, the bishop said.
The lawsuit portrays the 57-year-old diocese as a criminal racketeering enterprise and a haven for pedophile priests.
The suit contends that sexual abuse dates to 1937, and it contains 21 new cases of purported sexual abuse by priests in the Camden Diocese. It alleges that leaders of the Catholic Church, including the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in Washington, engaged in a coverup in order to protect contributions from members to the church.
The suit contended that Father McIntyre and two other priests sexually abused two brothers from Cherry Hill. In his position with the diocese, Father McIntyre reviews complaints of sexual abuse by Camden priests. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Attorney Stephen Rubino, who filed the class-action suit, said it was well- documented and contained years of legal research.
"The only terrorists in this ball game," he said, reacting to the bishop's statement, "are the men who allowed pedophiles the opportunity to
sexually assault children."
Bishop McHugh said the church has hired, to defend the diocese, law firms deemed to be best qualified in the arena of defeating sex abuse allegations.
Church leaders also are consulting with psychiatrists and psychologists about the technique called delayed discovery, where people suppress hurts endured as children until, as adults, they must tell someone else what happened to them.
Some of the claims in the lawsuit date to 1961, and delayed discovery is expected to be one of the key legal issues if and when the civil case ever comes to trial.
In a letter to all priests dated yesterday, Bishop McHugh called for "solidarity" among the clerics. "It is once again a massive attack on the priesthood, on the integrity of all who serve and have served faithfully and courageously and it is a denigration of our priestly commitment," he wrote.
He told the priests that the diocese had indications as far back as a year ago that the charges would be made. Since 1990, the diocese paid out $3.2 million in claims to settle sex abuse cases against priests. The settlement came with a "confidentiality agreement" attached.
In January, some of the victims broke the agreement and disclosed terms of the settlement. Since then, the bishop said, he would no longer agree to out- of-court settlements, and would instead let the cases go to trial.
Last night, he said he questioned the ethics of including names in the most recent lawsuit of people making public allegations that had already been settled.
He said some of the cases had been heard in criminal court. All of that, he contended, proved that the church was not conspiring to conceal the problem of sex abuse by priests.
"How did we cover up something that we adjudicated in the courts?" the bishop said.
In a statement to all Catholics, attached to the letter to the priests, Bishop McHugh castigated the suit, pointing especially to a demand that the bishop of the diocese be removed and that the diocese itself be dissolved.
"These are clearly outrageous and unjustified demands, and are beyond the power of civil law," the bishop wrote.
He said the diocese had done "everything reasonably possible to deal fairly and compassionately with the people making the current allegations. Even now I wonder if they fully understand the implications of their complaint and the legal theory on which it is based."
In the bishop's statement that will be read from the pulpits of Catholic churches, he calls for Catholics to unite.
"From this suffering we can become a more vibrant and more committed Catholic community," he wrote.
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