A Pall over a Larger-Than-Life Legend: a Priest Who Was Father,
Mentor and Saving Grace for Neighborhood Boys Is Accused of Molesting Two of Them

Others Refuse to Believe It

By Natalie Pompilio
Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]
June 25, 2006

Jun. 25—For more than 20 years, the Rev. David I. Hagan lived and ministered in North Philadelphia, beloved by many there, as revered as a saint, as deeply missed as family since his death in 2005 at age 66.

"Father Dave," as his old neighbors around 22d and Berks Streets called him, was a saving grace for the youth in this troubled pocket of the city. He took them into his home when they were on the streets, found them jobs when they needed money, encouraged them to complete school so they could have better lives. For countless boys, people who knew Hagan said, he was a guide, a mentor and a friend.

"He was like my father," said Ervin Ezell, 38, of Deptford. "He did all the things a father would do. He took me to get my driver's license, paid for my prom and my tuxedo. We were poor kids, and he was just a blessing."

But now, two of the boys who benefited from Hagan's largesse are men — and they say the Roman Catholic priest sexually molested them when they were children, allegations that have cast a pall on his larger-than-life legend.

Thomas and Willie Albert Magnum, brothers who grew up about a block from Hagan's home, say Hagan routinely abused them in the 1970s. The pair have joined 11 others — a group that says it represents all victims abused by priests in the diocese since 1940 — in filing a federal class-action suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Willie Magnum did not return calls seeking comment.

"I loved that guy like he was a god, but what he did to me, I knew it wasn't right," said Thomas Magnum, 40, who said Hagan also molested other members of his family, including one brother who was murdered and another who committed suicide.

The Hagan family — including nephew Michael Hagan, an investor in Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., which recently purchased The Inquirer — have chosen to let their lawyer speak for them. Lawyer Michael Malloy said the family stood behind Hagan.

In fact, Malloy said, the family launched its own investigation into Magnum's allegations when they first arose a few years ago. They secured a signed statement by a homeowner that Hagan could not have abused anyone in her home — as Thomas Magnum claimed — because he did not have a key to it. They spoke to a business owner who said the complaint was made about the same time that Thomas Magnum and Hagan had a falling out after Magnum was fired from a job Hagan had gotten him.

"The problem with that kind of allegation is it's your word against my word, and if I'm dead, you got a leg up on me...," Malloy said. "So look at the person making the accusation and the lies and if they lied about certain things."

Magnum said he understood why the Hagan family would be upset by and skeptical of his claims.

"It's the way they should feel because Father Hagan was part of their family. It was the last thing on their mind, to think that he would do this," he said. "But they should believe it. Because it is true."

Hagan, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, grew up in an affluent Mount Airy family. During the early days of his priesthood, he lived in the Washington area and fought for civil rights and spoke out against the Vietnam War.

Hagan moved back to Philadelphia, but not to the comfortable home he had once known. He settled in North Philadelphia, a white man in the largely African American neighborhood. He called his home "Inner City House." It — and his wallet — were seemingly open to all.

"Had I not met Father Dave, I'd be in jail somewhere. Without a doubt," said Darrand Debnam, 33, who lived at Hagan's home for a few years. "There were times I didn't have carfare to get to work and he'd help me with that. There were times my children needed diapers and he helped me. He helped me pay my mortgage. In high school, I couldn't pass chemistry to save my life. He tutored me, showed me the formulas. That was what he did. If you had a problem, he wanted to make it better."

Barbara Chestnut, 51, who still lives a block from Hagan's old house, called him "a light in the neighborhood," one that is still missed. He helped her rear her four sons and pay her mortgage, she said. He kept his lot clean and planted with flowers, hiring boys to do cleanup work. He always encouraged everyone, she said, "even the guys who slipped and went to jail, he'd write letters to them."

The Magnum family — or Mangum, as the family name also has been spelled — also lived about a block from Hagan's house. The family of 13 children being reared by their mother were adopted by Hagan, neighbors said.

"He took care of that whole family," said Nina Smith, 39, another neighbor. "He raised them like he was their father. I don't believe he took time out to touch one of them."

Thomas Magnum said Hagan's relationship with his twin brother, Timothy Magnum, was particularly close and particularly tainted: He alleges that Hagan admitted to being Timothy Magnum's longtime lover. In 1993, after Timothy Magnum was stabbed to death in a still-unsolved drug-related killing, Hagan referred to the dead man as "my son" and "the apple of my eye" in an article published in The Inquirer. In the same piece, Thomas Magnum called Hagan a strong, positive influence on his family, noting, "When you have somebody that cares for you, you tend to cling to them."

Hagan also worked as a teacher and basketball coach. He mentored several successful basketball players, most notably Hank Gathers. Hagan's relationship with Gathers, who died of a heart ailment on the court in 1990, was depicted in a 1992 TV movie.

"This whole stuff with the Magnums is just ridiculous," said Tyrone Weeks, a former University of Massachusetts basketball standout who also looked up to Hagan. "Why would you try to tarnish a man's image like that?"

During an interview with The Inquirer, Magnum described an incident he said occurred when he was 12 years old: He and Hagan had traveled to Virginia and were staying alone at the home of friends of Hagan's, he said. The pair went to the movies and dinner, during which Hagan drank alcohol. When they returned to the house, Thomas Magnum said, he went to bed while Hagan continued to drink.

Magnum said he woke up to find Hagan molesting him.

"And I'm overwhelmed. I'm shocked. I don't know what to do and I know this is not right," Magnum said. "So I cringed up and I started crying. I remember just being scared, just being afraid."

Hagan, he said, tried to calm him, saying, "It's OK. It's just a form of love and it's OK... . And the whole time, I'm crying because I know this is not right.

"Afterward, he turns and tells me that if this got out, they would remove him from the house and he wouldn't be able to help people and he couldn't be there for people," Magnum said.

Magnum said he had told his twin brother, but no one else. In the years that followed, he continued to stay at Hagan's house, take Hagan's money, and accept Hagan's gifts, such as a car. Twice, Magnum accompanied Hagan on trips to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

"I stayed in it because besides the things he did that were wrong, overall, he provided for us. He was a provider," Magnum said. "I accepted him for who he was, him being a pedophile and liking boys."

Magnum said he first complained to the archdiocese about Hagan by e-mail in 2002. His brother complained, by telephone, in 2003, he said. Archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell said records showed a complaint from Thomas Magnum in 2004. It was forwarded to the District Attorney's Office and to Hagan's order, she said.

Magnum was referred to lawyer Stewart Eisenberg that same year. Magnum was "scared, embarrassed, but determined to tell his story," Eisenberg said. "I think part of it was he knew others were telling their stories as well so by that time he knew he wasn't alone."

Eisenberg said he sat down with both brothers and found their accounts believable.

"The detail in which they described the events is something you can't make up," he said. "In my mind, there's no incentive that these men have to come forward other than to expose what really happened.

"Some people would say money is an incentive, but that's naive. Because there is no money. There hasn't been any money for all these victims for all these years."

Magnum also denied speaking out for money.

"Father Hagan always told me my problem was I never finished anything I started. I made a promise to myself that I would see this to the end," Magnum said. "If nothing comes out of it in terms of money and the lawsuit, that's not [as] important to me as my sanity. I lost a lot of friends and family over this. I lost a whole lot."

Although dead, Hagan also stands to lose.

"Once you're accused of something like this, especially publicly, it truly tarnishes — if not destroys — your reputation, whether it's true or whether it's not true," said Sister Mary Scullion, who runs Project HOME and who worked with Hagan.

Scullion said she admired Hagan, whom she called "a very good person and a very committed person. He wasn't a pretender. There was very little pretense."

Still, Scullion said she had no way of knowing whether the Magnums' claims were true.

"People should be calling for an investigation so the truth comes out," she said.

That there is even a question of doubt about Hagan's innocence angers Darrell Gates, 39, who played basketball with Gathers when they were children and who now works for SEPTA. When word of the Magnums' claims first hit the street, Gates asked Hagan about it.

"He sat me down and said it was a lie and that's all I needed to hear," Gates said. "He told me he didn't do it, and that's what I go by."

Hagan is being smeared, Gates said. The man should be remembered as a hero, he said, someone who "took care of all of us, raised us to be decent young men."

"My dad made me, but Father Dave was my father, the father I never had," Gates said. "People can't believe what's going on. He wasn't supposed to go out like that. He was supposed to go out on a white horse, with his picture on the wall."


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