Man Accuses Priest of Abuse 30 Years Ago
A S. Phila. Man, Saying He Was Abused As a Teen, Is Suing the Cleric and the Archdiocese

By Jacqueline Soteropoulos
Philadelphia Inquirer
December 24, 2003

Rocco "Rocky" Parisi Jr. bit his fingernails and stared at the floor. Shifting uncomfortably, the 44-year-old man could barely bring himself to talk privately about what he says his parish priest did to him three decades ago.

But yesterday, Parisi stepped before a throng of reporters and cameras and announced that he and his attorney were suing the priest and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia for alleged sexual abuse.

"I felt it was my duty to come forward....I can forgive him, but I can't let him do this to anyone else," Parisi said.

Parisi, of South Philadelphia, claims that the Rev. Joseph P. Gallagher repeatedly plied him with alcohol and marijuana in the mid-1970s, when Gallagher was a parish priest at St. Monica Roman Catholic Church in South Philadelphia. Parisi said that when he was half-conscious, the priest would grope and perform sex acts on him.

Archdiocesan officials declined to disclose Gallagher's whereabouts yesterday but released a statement saying that he is not in active ministry. The church declined to comment on the pending litigation.

However, in its statement, the archdiocese said its goal would be "to take whatever steps are necessary to protect young people in our care." Officials said the archdiocese continues to take reports of alleged abuse through victims-assistance coordinators at 215-587-3880.

Neither Gallagher nor his attorney could be reached for comment yesterday.

Parisi's attorney, Stewart J. Eisenberg, said: "Father Gallagher was a supposed friend of the Parisi family - he befriended not only Rocky, but also his parents...when all the while he was committing these despicable acts."

The alleged abuse began in 1973, when Parisi was 13 years old, and ended three years later, Parisi said.

Gallagher is not one of the four priests the archdiocese dismissed last week after the church found "credible evidence" of sexual abuse.

John Salveson, president of the Philadelphia-area chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he knows of no other alleged victims of Gallagher.

Parisi said that he kept the secret for years, until abuse survivors in other states began coming forward.

"I felt like I wasn't alone - I wasn't the only one this happened to," Parisi said. "It destroyed my religious beliefs and led me on a path to drugs and alcohol."

The lawsuit names Gallagher, St. Monica Church, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, former archbishop of Philadelphia, and the late Cardinal John Krol.

Eisenberg said he and Parisi want Gallagher removed from the priesthood and an apology from the archdiocese. They also want compensatory and punitive damages. Eisenberg declined to specify an amount, saying that would be up to a jury to decide.

To overcome Pennsylvania statute-of-limitations issues, Eisenberg said, the lawsuit filed yesterday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court includes allegations of civil conspiracy, racketeering and negligence.

"The church was a conduit and a protector of [Gallagher]," Eisenberg said. "If they didn't know specifically, they should have."

Eisenberg said the church - locally, nationally and worldwide - employed a course of conduct to deny and suppress allegations of sexual abuse.

"We believe that this lawsuit will force the church to come forward and admit that these acts did occur, and take responsibility, so that they cannot just handle these matters internally...and sweep them under the rug," Eisenberg said.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia faces at least one other pending abuse suit, filed in April by a New Jersey man who claims he was sexually abused several times by a Roman Catholic priest in the early 1980s.

Parisi said he grew up in a religious family, attending school at St. Monica. In seventh grade, Parisi said, Gallagher befriended him - taking him out of classes to help around the church.

"He kind of picked me out - I was singled out," Parisi said. Then, he said, Gallagher began taking him to the movies, to go bowling, and to shoot pool. And Gallagher drove Parisi to Disney World in Florida, he said.

At first, Parisi said, he was flattered by the attention.

"I was impressed - he had an aura of power....People respected him," Parisi said. He said he was also in deep denial about the physical contact that he said happened when they were alone.

After he began attending Central High School and began becoming interested in girls, Parisi said, he pulled away from Gallagher - refusing to see him or take his calls.

"At one point, I hauled off and hit him and said: 'Leave me alone,' " Parisi said.

Today, Parisi lives in his girlfriend's home - across the street from St. Monica, the church where he met Gallagher 30 years ago.

"It's weird. It's just something I deal with day to day," he said.

Parisi said that while the abuse shook his faith, he still considers himself a Catholic and occasionally goes to Mass: "I still believe in God - and the devil."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.