Diocese, 4 Priests Named in Sex Lawsuit

By William H. Sokolic
March 24, 1999

An Atlantic City man has filed a four-count complaint against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden and four priests, charging unwanted homosexual advances during his days as a seminary student.

In a suit filed in Superior Court here, Christopher McKelvey claims the incidents occurred after he began his religious studies in the mid-1980s.

He alleges Rev. William C. Pierce and Rev. Anthony J. Manuppella discussed homosexual lifestyles and urged him to visit gay bars with them. The suit also claims that Pierce talked frequently about "sexual acts prohibited by the teachings and customs of the Roman Catholic Church."

The lawsuit contends that Rev. William P. Brennan and Rev. JohnT. Frey, both supervisors, did not curb the improper activity after McKelvey brought it to their attention. Brennan, of St. Pius X inCherry Hill, acted in "an abusive and hostile manner and created a hostile working and educational environment," the suit says.

Church officials are unaware of McKelvey's allegations, said Karla Figueroa, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

'We haven't seen the complaint, nor has Mr. McKelvey brought forward any such charges specifically to the diocese at any time,'she said Tuesday. 'We will investigate these claims carefully, with full regard for the rights of all concerned.'

McKelvey and his attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Figueroa said McKelvey resigned in the past year as a lay teacher at a parochial school in the diocese.

Pierce, who serves at St. Joan of Arc parish in Camden's Fairview section, declined to comment.

'I really don't know what the allegations are," he said. "I prefer to see these officially filed whatever they are, so I have no comment at this stage."

Manuppella, who is with St. Mary Magdalen Church in Millville,could not be reached for comment. Brennan, at Pius X Church in CherryHill, and Frey, at St. Isidore Church in Vineland, also could notbe reached.

Also named in the suit was the estate of Msgr. William J. Buchler,who McKelvey says discussed homosexual behavior. The complaint is expected to be amended to include as many as 10 John Does.

The suit is the latest against the Camden Diocese, which in the last decade has faced allegations of sexual misconduct by priests dating to the 1960s. Between 1990 and 1994, the Camden Diocese paid$3.2 million to settle such allegations.

According to the current complaint, McKelvey attended St.Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. The lawsuit claimsthe diocese and its priests "fostered, tolerated, permitted and encouraged inappropriate sexual conduct" in which McKelvey faced frequent exposure to "homosexual and other deviant discussions and or contact."

McKelvey claims such actions created a hostile environment,forcing him to leave the church.

McKelvey is seeking an unspecified amount in damages to compensate for economic harm, expenses associated with tuition, student loans, and damages from "emotional pain, anguish, psychological harm, hedonic damages, loss of employment and employability." He also is seeking court costs and punitive damages.

When police did have time to check out the juveniles, they learned that they attend Northern Burlington, which also has received several bomb threats this month. State police said they are investigating whether the boys were involved in those threats.


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