As He Told of Assault in a Church Rectory at Age 12, Philip Thomas Young Sobbed

By Nancy Phillips
Philadelphia Inquirer
April 17, 2002

ATLANTIC CITY - Philip Thomas Young broke down on the witness stand yesterday as he testified that his family's priest, for whom he was named, sexually abused him in a rectory 24 years ago.

Young, 36, sobbed as he told a hushed courtroom that Msgr. Philip Rigney had climbed into bed with him as he lay on a pull-out couch in the rectory of St. Francis de Sales Church in Barrington, Camden County. Young said he had gone there with his brother to help set up a church carnival and the priest had invited him to stay overnight.

He was 12.

Young wept as he recalled that Msgr. Rigney fondled and masturbated him and forced him to fondle the priest's genitals. He said the abuse that began that night in the rectory continued in at least 150 episodes over five years.

"It started then. I don't remember how many times. It just got worse and worse," said Young, wiping away tears as his mother, Joan Dougherty, sobbed in the courtroom's front row.

Msgr. Rigney has denied Young's claims.

At one point in yesterday's testimony, Young, a sandy-haired man with a goatee, went silent for a moment. He looked at his lawyer and said: "I don't want to think about it. I can't talk about this."

With that, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge John G. Himmelberger Jr. called a recess, and Young left the courtroom, sobbing in his mother's arms.

Young and his brother, Robert, are among 18 plaintiffs who have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden, alleging they were abused by priests and claiming the church tolerated and concealed such abuses for decades.

Lawyers for the diocese deny this and say the church was not aware of, and would not have condoned, such acts.

At the start of his testimony, Young described growing up in a household steeped in the Catholic faith. He said his family, which lived for a time in Camden County and later moved to Delaware, went to Mass on Sunday, said the rosary several times a week, went to confession regularly, and revered priests.

Young calmly told of serving as an altar boy, a task he said he believed would elevate him spiritually:

"Helping the priests and leading them down the aisle and actually washing their hands was helping me save my soul and making me more pure, so when I died and went to heaven, I would be sitting on the right side of Jesus Christ."

From an early age, Young said, he was taught to obey priests. "You don't know what God had laid out for you," he said, "but the priests did, because they were higher spiritually than you."

Msgr. Rigney, who baptized Young, also officiated at his First Communion, traveling from South Jersey to the boy's home in Wilmington and leading a private ceremony at the family's parish there.

Yesterday, when the questions from his lawyer, Lewis R. Bornstein, shifted to the alleged abuse, Young swallowed hard, paused and said: "No. I won't talk about this."

He wiped a tear from his eyes, then recovered his composure and began. But he was only able to speak for a few minutes before he became too upset to continue.

When Young returned to the stand after a recess, he described being assaulted dozens of times in rectories, on camping trips and family vacations, and at the priest's shore house in Beach Haven West.

At the rectory in Barrington, he said, he and his brother would make drinks for the priest, who favored Manhattans and highballs, and were encouraged to drink beer and liquor that Msgr. Rigney kept in his room. Sometimes, he said, he or his brother would "bunk" with the priest, sleeping with him in his king-size bed.

Msgr. Rigney, who is 85 and now lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, has denied the abuse. In video testimony on Monday, he acknowledged that Bishop George H. Guilfoyle had confronted him about the allegations after the Youngs first reported the abuse in 1984. But he said the bishop accepted his word that he had done nothing wrong, refused the priest's offer to resign, and reassigned him to a parish in Pitman until his retirement in 1987.

A 1984 memo written by Bishop Guilfoyle and entered into evidence in the suit appears to contradict that account. The bishop, who has since died, wrote that when he confronted Msgr. Rigney, the priest "did not deny" the abuse and agreed to undergo counseling.

Yesterday, Young recalled meeting with the bishop to report the abuse. He said the bishop assured Young and his mother that he would remove the priest from active ministry and send him for treatment.

The bishop, Young testified, told the family not to report the assaults to law-enforcement officials, saying that "would be very scandalous" and would harm the family and the church. He said he did as the bishop asked, fearing that if he did otherwise, he might be excommunicated.

For years, Young said, he struggled with emotional difficulties. As a teenager, he was perpetually truant, was expelled from school in 10th grade, and later attempted suicide. It took him many years, he said, to connect those problems with the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of the priest.

When he finally did so, he said, he sued.


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