Five Men Sue Archdiocese, Alleging Abuse

By Larry Fish
Philadelphia Inquirer [St. Davids]
February 1, 2004

James P. Dolan, now 37, held up a picture of himself as a towhead of 15 and explained what it was like to be that boy.

"This kid here, his life had been stolen," and the thief was an abusive priest at the Good Shepherd church in West Philadelphia, Dolan said.

The priest he accused, the Rev. Joseph Gausch, is dead, he said, and the statute of limitations is expired.

But he and four other men who say they were abused by other priests said Friday that they were suing the Philadelphia Archdiocese for allegedly giving known pedophiles access to children. Three of the five - Dolan, John McDonnell, and a man who wanted to be identified only as Christopher, appeared at a news conference at the Radnor Hotel in St. Davids.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the church had not seen the three lawsuits, which were filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia and seek damages in excess of $50,000. The church said in a statement that the archdiocese "remains committed to dealing with any allegations of abuse and has increased its vigilance to prevent abuse from occurring in the future."

None of the priests named in the suits is still active in the ministry, the statement said.

A call to Good Shepherd church went unanswered.

One of the plaintiff's attorneys, Richard M. Serbin, accused recently retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and the late Cardinal John Joseph Krol of being aware of the problems but doing nothing to protect children.

"How can you have so many pedophiles in your house and not know it?" Serbin said.

John McDonnell, composed and elegant in a navy blue suit that set off his wavy white hair, struggled to keep in control as he recounted the toll he said an abusive priest had taken on him and his two brothers.

"For the last 20 or 30 years, there have been a lot of suicidal thoughts in my brain," said McDonnell, now 60 and living in California. He said he was representing himself and brothers Alex and Brian, all of whom he says were molested as altar boys by the Rev. Gerard Chambers at St. Gregory's church in Southwest Philadelphia. Chambers died in 1974, and St. Gregory's closed in 1981.

McDonnell had what he said was the archdiocese's official roll of Chambers' assignments, from his ordination in 1934 until his death. Chambers' longest assignment anywhere was for 28 months, elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and there were seven long breaks for "medical leave," according to documents from the archdiocese.

After one such lengthy leave, he was assigned as chaplain for six months in 1957 to St. Francis Orphanage in Orwigsburg, Pa., which housed only boys, the archdiocese documents said.

From 1957 to 1959, he was assistant pastor at St. Gregory's, where John McDonnell, then 13, and his brothers Alex, then 14, of Wynnewood, and Brian Francis, then 12, were altar boys, and all said they were molested by Chambers, according to the brothers' lawsuit.

The suit says the molestation occurred in the church, in cars, and on trips to the Jersey Shore and elsewhere.

"He took me to the Pocono Mountains, to that male orphanage, and he was like a kid in a candy store," John McDonnell said Friday.

His brother Brian is at Norristown State Hospital with mental problems that John McDonnell connected to the alleged abuse.

A fifth alleged victim, who asked to be identified only as Christopher, appeared with the others but did not speak about his experiences.

His lawsuit said that when he was 15 and a student at Cardinal O'Hara High School, a faculty member at the school "coerced [the alleged victim] into moving into his residence," a building owned by the archdiocese at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township, Delaware County, near the high school.

Christopher lived with the priest for three years and was frequently assaulted, he said in the lawsuit. The priest would introduce him as "my adopted son."

The priest, the Rev. Richard G. Jones, is the only one of the accused priests still alive, according to the archdiocese. He could not be reached for comment. Serbin said he did not know where Jones was.

The archdiocese's statement said only that Jones "had not been in active ministry for many years."

John McDonnell said he had recently approached the archdiocese without an attorney to try to reach some sort of settlement. When he could not get satisfaction that way, he said, he decided to file a suit with his brothers.

The archdiocese would not elaborate beyond the statement that was released.

John Salverson, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, praised the men for coming forward and said he hoped it would encourage more to do so. He said the Philadelphia Archdiocese "cannot be trusted" to implement reforms and provide for victims without constant exposure.

The suits by the five men are among several that have been filed against Catholic church officials across the state in recent weeks, including others represented by Serbin, who is from Altoona.

Four people who said they had been abused by priests filed lawsuits against the Pittsburgh Diocese on Jan. 14. Five people sued the Diocese of Allentown on Jan. 13.

Rocco Parisi, 44, who said he had been abused as a child, sued the Philadelphia Archdiocese in December.


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