Questions, Criticisms Mounting for Church

By Alan Guenther
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
April 14, 2002

They say their childhoods ended too soon, ruined by ugly memoriesthat continue to gnaw at them today. Decades later, they claim themen they looked up to most in life -- their priests -- sexually abused them.

The 19 men and women who allege in a class-action lawsuit that priests in South Jersey molested them or their relatives say the toll on their lives has been devastating:

Philip Young cut his arms with a knife. His brother, Robert Young,became an alcoholic. Steve Gandy says the abuse left him 'emotionally deadened.' James J. Smith says he 'became alone, fearful . . .I have no religion. . . . My dreams are always nightmares.'

On Monday, for the first time, one of the accused priests, Msgr.Philip Rigney, is scheduled to testify and answer questions.

Rigney and the other priests named in the civil suit say they are innocent of the allegations brought against them in a case being heard in Superior Court in Atlantic County.

The Camden Diocese denies it covered up any sexual abuse.

'The diocese believes sexual abuse of minors is a grave wrong and can never be tolerated,' said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Camden.'It is also a crime and must be reported, investigated and responded to, so that victims are protected and the accused are removed from active ministry.'

Attorneys for the diocese also pose a key legal question: Why did the plaintiffs wait 10 years, 20 years -- and in one case, as long as 41 years -- to file their complaints?

The statute of limitations on the child abuse allegations in the lawsuit has expired. Unless the plaintiffs can explain their delay by showing they suffered severe emotional duress or were coerced into remaining silent, their lawsuit will be dismissed.

The South Jersey allegations are part of a growing national controversy about whether the church has routinely hidden sexual misconduct by priests for decades.

'This may be the biggest scandal in the history of religion in America, and the most serious crisis Catholicism has faced since the Reformation,' said the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest, author and sociologist.

The scandal has captured headlines in Boston, Cleveland, NewYork state and most recently in Cinnaminson, where reports surfaced Friday that Joseph Michael DeShan, a fifth-grade teacher at theEleanor Rush Intermediate School, impregnated a 16-year-old while he was a priest in Connecticut. The church allowed DeShanto leave the priesthood. He was not charged with a crime and won't be because too much time has passed, a Connecticut prosecutor said.

DeShan is on paid administrative leave from the Rush School.

On Thursday, the Camden Diocese announced the formation of an independent panel of volunteers to recommend how the church can improve its handling of sex abuse cases involving priests.The diocese also is establishing a toll-free hot line for people to report abuse, and it has turned over to county prosecutors the names of priests accused of molesting children.

Nationally, a growing number of psychologists, parishionersand critics are urging the Catholic Church to re-examine its attitude toward sex and to fully disclose sex abuse to the public.

Several of the church's most consistent critics say the church's requirement that priests remain celibate has forced priests to engage in clandestine relationships.

Maryland psychologist Richard Sipe, based on interviews with1,000 priests, including 500 of his patients, estimates that between18 percent and 20 percent of priests are homosexual.

In his recently updated book, Lead Us Not into Temptation, author Jason Berry, a frequent contributor to The National Catholic Reporter and The New York Times, says he believes closer to 40 percent of priests are gay.

Since 1967, when Pope Paul VI reaffirmed celibacy among priests as the 'brilliant jewel' of Catholic faith, heterosexual men have been leaving the priesthood in droves, maintains Berry, who is a Catholic. In 1966, about 35,000 diocesan priests served in theUnited States. By 1990, there were 26,000 -- a decline of 25.7 percent.

In the Camden Diocese, 381 diocesan priests served 300,000 Catholics in 1968. Today, 318 priests minister to 430,000 parishioners in the diocese's six counties in South Jersey.

In recent decades, the church 'has become a magnet to men with pathological problems, as well as a great number of homosexuals,' Berry wrote.

Gay men do not molest children any more than married men commit incest, he explains. But he says the church's 'obsession with secrecy and avoiding scandal' has led clergymen to hide their own homosexuality and participate 'in cover-ups of criminal behavior by child molesters.' This too shall pass

In the face of a steady drumbeat of headlines, television news specials, lawsuits and lurid accusations, some South Jersey Catholics remain steadfast in their belief that the accusations are exaggerated and the scandal will pass.

Earl J. Sass, 77, of Haddonfield's Christ the King Church, saysthe reports around the country have not shaken his faith.

'No way,' he said. 'Not one iota.'

The father of eight children, Sass estimates he has known about 20 priests in his lifetime.

'I have nothing but high praise for all of the priests I have known,'said Sass, a retired employee of RCA, where he helped develop color television. The priests he has met are 'dedicated, hardworking,sincere, holy men.'

Andrew Walton, spokesman for the Camden Diocese, says he's never seen a credible, scientific study of homosexuality in the priesthood.

If he testifies as scheduled Monday, Msgr. Rigney is expected to face tough questions about whether he sexually abused Philip and Robert Young, now 36 and 37, as teenagers. According to PhilipYoung, Rigney sexually abused him on a sofa bed in the rectory of the St. Francis de SalesChurch in Barrington.

Repeatedly at the rectory, and at Rigney's shore home in Beach Haven, Rigney fondled his genitals and forced him to perform oral sex, Young says.

He maintains the abuse occurred from 1978 through 1983. Young was between 12 and 17 then.

Young's testimony is expected later this week. His attorney,Stephen Rubino, says Rigney's guilt is established in a handwritten note by Bishop George Guilfoyle after Young's mother complained in 1984 that her son had been abused:

'Later I saw Msgr. (Rigney) here. He did not deny and said he would do what I wanted. He agreed to professional and spiritual help.'

Guilfoyle died in 1991. In a deposition given after the lawsuit was filed, Rigney, now 85, denied he abused Philip Young or his brother. The Youngs live in Delaware.

Also part of the lawsuit are accusations by James J. Smith against Msgr. James P. McIntyre, who now serves the Church of the Holy Family parish in Washington Township. Between 1963 and 1966, Smith claims McIntyre penetrated him anally and other priests sexually abused him in the living room of the rectory at the St. Pius Church in CherryHill. Smith was then between 15 and 18 years old.

In 1966, Smith says he drove with his father to a parish in Sea Isle City to report the sexual abuse. The person handling such complaintswas Rigney, the same priest accused by the Youngs.

Smith complains he was told to stay quiet, that the church would handle the problem internally.

The problem with this account, says Walton of the Camden Diocese,is that Smith has admitted repeatedly that he has lied. In his depositionto church attorneys, Walton says, Smith 'admitted to lying under oath, lied to his own lawyers, and lied throughout his testimony to the degree that his credibility is beyond repair.'

McIntyre vehemently denies the allegations. In a written statement,he said:

'As I said when this case was first filed nearly 10 years ago and as I said again under oath during my deposition, I deny that I sexually abused anyone. I have also publicly denied the allegation before parishioners at our parish in the past and again several weeks ago.

'Some have attempted to sensationalize this case in the media, rather than trying it in the court, where it was first brought and where it belongs.

'Because this matter is in litigation, it is not possible, underthe advice of my attorney, to comment further on the case itself.'

Smith's attorney, Lewis R. Bornstein, acknowledges his client has frequently lied in the past.

To deal with his memories of the sexual abuse, Smith, now 54, has created 'two personas,' Bornstein says. One is a 'hurt little boy.' The other is a 'swaggering John Wayne' character, who brags and lies and protects the other.

Attorney Rubino offered this challenge: 'If Msgr. McIntyreis so sure of his innocence, then my suggestion is that he waive the statute of limitations issues, and we'll decide the case on its merits.'

Under law in effect when the abuse allegedly took place, legal action in a sexual abuse case involving a minor must be taken within two years after the victim turns 18, unless extenuating circumstances can be proved. Changing attitudes?

As they follow the accusations in the media, some South Jersey Catholics say they are having a hard time understanding why the Camden Diocese has been using the statute of limitations to fight the accusations since the suit was first filed in 1994.

'I'm outraged. I'm disgusted. The entire church is based on trust, which we gave freely as children,' said Mike McIntyre, 49, a Clementon attorney who is not related to Msgr. McIntyre in Washington Township.

'I believe the statute of limitations should be waived in all these legal proceedings,' McIntyre said. 'It prevents you from getting to the heart of the case: Were these children abused?'

The diocese's Walton said, 'The statute of limitations is not a technicality. It is not a legal maneuver. It exists so that courts can distinguish between frivolous claims and those that have merit.

'Memories fail. Witnesses are no longer available. It's difficult, or no longer possible, to determine with certitude what actually happened.'

Deborah Fox, 47, a Catholic in Moorestown, says she thinks her church should 'come completely clean' on the issue. She also thinksthe church should change its attitudes toward celibacy and sex.

'I think priests should be allowed to marry,' she said. If priests and bishops had families, she says, they might have handled the allegations differently. The lawsuit charges that when priests were accused of sexual misconduct, they were simply moved from parish to parish.

'I don't think a bishop or monsignor who had sons of his own would ever have moved a priest who molested a child to another parish,' Fox said.

Walton says that when a priest is accused today, he is removed from contact with parishioners. McIntyre remains at the church in Washington Township because the diocese maintains the allegations against him are 'not credible.'

Karen Del Signore, 39, a member of McIntyre's parish, says her support for him remains strong.

'He seems to listen very well,' she said. 'He's a good consoler.. . . If he's got any sins or indiscretions, it wouldn't be with children. If it came out that he actually did something like that,I'd be totally floored.'

HD:Accused perpetrators Estate of the Rev. Joseph P. Barber; Rev. Msgr. James P. McIntyre; Estate of the Rev. Msgr. Dennis J. Rigney; Estate of the Rev. Francis J. Flemming; Rev. William C. O'Connell, deceased; Estate of the Rev. John P. Kelly; Estate of the Rev. Charles P. McColgan; Rev.Norman T. Connelly; Rev. Joseph Shannon; Rev. Msgr. Augustine J. Seidenberg: Rev. John P.Bernard: Rev. Joseph Orsini: Rev. Patrick Weaver; Rev. Msgr. Philip T. Rigney; Rev. WilliamTitmas;

Accused co-conspirators (accused of knowing of abuse but failing to takeaction):

Msgr. Joseph W. Pokusa; Estate of Msgr. Augustine T. Mozier; Estate of Bishop Celestine J. Damiano; Estate of Bishop George H. Guilfoyle; Bishop James L. Schad, deceased; Bishop James T. McHugh, deceased;

Source: Allegations contained in complaint bylaw firm of Ross and Rubino

HD:Parishes where abuse allegedly occurred:

St. Pius X, Cherry Hill; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Berlin Borough; Our Lady of Mount Carmel & Fatima, Camden; St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, Merchantville; St. Mary's Church, Gloucester City; St. Anthony of Padua in Camden; St. Thomas, Brigantine; Our Lady Star of the Sea, Cape May; St. Gregory's, Magnolia; St. Joseph's Pro Cathedral, Camden; St.John's, Collingswood; St. Francis de Sales, Barrington


Allegations contained in complaint by law firm of Ross & Rubino


James J. Smith; Margaret Stanton; Kathleen S. Palmer; Peter D. Pfister; Stephen M. Johnson; Roseann Piccioni, parent on behalf of minor child; Gary Mauger; Elizabeth A. Gorman; Roxanne J. Angell; Diane Fetters-Murphy; Stephen Gandy; Robert Young; Philip Young; Six anonymous plaintiffs

Source: Complaint by law firm of Ross & Rubino


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