Archdiocese Requests Removal of Accused Priest

By Maria Panaritis
Philadelphia Inquirer
April 30, 2003

A day after a priest was named in a sexual-abuse lawsuit, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia sought yesterday to temporarily remove the accused cleric from ministry in the mountains of Peru, where he has been working with homeless children since the early 1990s.

In a statement issued yesterday by spokeswoman Catherine Rossi, the archdiocese said it had "requested that the Diocese of Abancay, Peru, release Father Donofrio from his current ministry pending an investigation."

The civil lawsuit filed Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court accuses the priest of abusing a 12-year-old boy several times two decades ago while in ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in South Philadelphia. Rossi said it was "the first complaint the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has received regarding Father Donofrio."

Efforts to reach the Rev. Michael J. Donofrio by telephone and e-mail were unsuccessful. A message to his parents' Montgomery County house was not returned yesterday.

Yesterday's was the first public statement from the archdiocese, which covers five counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, since the lawsuit against Donofrio was filed late Monday by Louis Aquilino of Turnersville, N.J. It is the first known lawsuit against the archdiocese since last year's sex-abuse scandals.

Aquilino, 33, claimed that the priest sexually abused him several times in 1982 and 1983 - when Aquilino was about 12 - at church, on trips to the beach, and in the basement of a Plymouth Meeting house after the pair had seen the film E.T.

Aquilino's lawyer, George M. Vinci of Philadelphia, did not return calls for comment yesterday. Efforts to reach Aquilino also were unsuccessful.

Rossi was unreachable for comment after issuing her written statement.

John Salveson, director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the archdiocese's move yesterday "a good thing," but was worried.

"It's hard for me to believe that this is the first allegation against this priest," Salveson said. "Because if there's one thing we know about these priests, it's that they abuse multiple victims."


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