Supporters Want Priest Reinstated
Old sex accusations false, parishioners say

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
December 14, 2000

North Richland Hills - The Rev. Philip Magaldi and his supporters want the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth to answer this question: Why can't he preach here when he's fit to celebrate Mass with the pope in Rome?

A Massachusetts man who accused Father Magaldi last year of molesting him as a child in the 1970s has been exposed as a career criminal, they say. The abuse allegation led diocesan officials to remove the priest from St. John the Apostle in April 1999 and say that Father Magaldi would end all active ministry "until this matter can be resolved."

Parishioners now have supplied the results of a private investigation they commissioned to Bishop Joseph P. Delaney, who has agreed to meet Thursday with Father Magaldi. Church officials declined to comment about the meeting's purpose.

[Photo captions: 1. The Rev. Philip Magaldi says charges of sexual misconduct, lodged by a man who since has died, were false. He seeks a return to full-time ministry and will meet with the Fort Worth diocese bishop Thursday. 2. Father Magaldi and his mother, Agnes, greet the pope during a visit to the Vatican. If he can celebrate Mass with the pope, why can't he be allowed to preach in North Richland Hills, his supporters ask.]

"I want to be reinstated because the charges were false," said Father Magaldi, who has an unrelated criminal record of his own but denies ever meeting his accuser and ever molesting any child. He said he has spent much of the last 20 months caring for his elderly mother, who recently saw him share the altar with Pope John Paul II at the pontiff's private chapel at the Vatican.

The priest's accuser, 42-year-old Thomas A. Marks, died in October at his parents' home of undetermined causes. His parents told paramedics he suffered from cancer, but medical authorities detected signs of intravenous drug abuse and ordered toxicology tests, which remain incomplete. His mother declined to comment Wednesday.

Before his death, Mr. Marks twice sued the Diocese of Providence, R.I., where Father Magaldi worked in the 1970s. He also named as defendants the priest and the Fort Worth diocese, where the 64-year-old Father Magaldi has spent the last decade.

Both cases were dismissed because Mr. Marks failed to show a federal court in Boston that he had served the defendants the suits. His former attorneys, whom he fired, did not respond to a reporter's phone messages.

Massachusetts-based private investigator John Lajoie turned up records, largely confirmed by The Dallas Morning News, showing that Mr. Marks had a 20-year criminal history. Convictions ranged from armed robbery and theft to burglary, drug possession and other charges.

Mr. Lajoie said his research showed that Mr. Marks told one acquaintance he was molested while serving as an altar boy for Father Magaldi in Providence. Mr. Marks, however, was Jewish. His suits allege that abuse occurred in Worcester, Mass., beginning when he was 12 years old, when the priest, whom he didn't know, offered him a car ride.

There is no evidence that either scenario occurred, Mr. Lajoie said. "It's a hoax," he said, one motivated by Mr. Marks' need for money and drugs.

The investigator played down the significance of one document given to Bishop Delaney - the result of a polygraph test commissioned by the Providence diocese. It concludes that Father Magaldi had "reactions indicative of deception" when asked whether he had sex with Mr. Marks.

A subsequent polygraph, sought by the priest, concluded that "there were indications of truthfulness" when Father Magaldi answered similar questions.

Mr. Lajoie said Father Magaldi's previous high-profile legal problems made him "an easy target" for someone looking to sue Roman Catholic dioceses, which have paid hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 15 years to settle claims that they covered up sexual abuse. Most of those cases involved multiple plaintiffs; no one else has ever publicly accused Father Magaldi of molestation.

He was indicted in 1985 on charges of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the case of Rhode Island socialite Claus von Bulow, who had been convicted of trying to kill his wife. Authorities later dropped the charges against Father Magaldi, saying their evidence was faulty.

The priest came to Fort Worth under a cloud in 1990, having been removed from his Rhode Island parish because of an embezzlement investigation that ultimately led to his guilty plea and conviction. Prosecutors said he stole more than $ 100,000 from his church, using some of the money to take altar boys on a Caribbean vacation and once giving a teenager he met in a park enough money to buy a car.

Bishop Delaney, a friend of Father Magaldi's even before they were ordained on the same December day 40 years ago, put the priest in charge of four rural parishes in the early 1990s. He quickly became beloved by some, while others told the judge in the embezzlement case that he had continued his spendthrift practices in Texas.

After serving eight months in a halfway house, he returned to the Fort Worth diocese and became assistant pastor at St. John in North Richland Hills. He was not allowed to handle church money but was put in charge of the parish's altar boys and made chaplain of the diocese's Boy Scouts program.

Bishop Delaney's willingness to employ Father Magaldi and another priest with a criminal record was the subject of a 1998 report in The News. That probably gave Mr. Marks the ammunition he needed to concoct a complaint and made diocesan leaders extra-sensitive to such matters, Father Magaldi suggested in an interview this week.

He said prosecutors greatly exaggerated the embezzlement case against him and that he didn't personally benefit from withdrawals he made from a church account. Much of the money went to pay elderly employees in cash to avoid paying Social Security taxes, he said.

"Those were imprudent acts," Father Magaldi said, adding that he has hired a Providence attorney to seek a pardon. "Those were mistakes."

He said he has tried hard to stay busy during his retirement, saying Mass in the home he shares with his mother and occasionally getting permission to do weddings and funerals. In recent months, he has been allowed to share the altar with a Keller priest but not to preach.

"I want to be restored to full-time ministry," Father Magaldi said. That includes working with young people, though "I don't think I would take kids on any more overnighters" to avoid possible appearances of impropriety.

Weldon Damewood, a St. John parishioner who helped hire the private investigator, said he has never seen Father Magaldi behave inappropriately. But he said "it's a tossup" whether the priest will win reinstatement.

"I believe very strongly in his innocence," Mr. Damewood said. "I believe the accuser was someone who had a whole lot of problems and was not believable."

Father Magaldi said he has not been able to discern any lesson in his recent struggles.

"I know the Lord works in mysterious ways," he said, "but this one I have not been able to figure out. Maybe it has been a purification, to make me wake up and realize I have to be careful what I say and do, to not give the wrong impression."


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