Lawsuit filed against Philly archdiocese officials

Philip Gaughan and his wife Michelle Gaughan are seen after a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, March 7, 2011. Philip Gaughan is suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia alleging clergy covered up sexual assault allegations against a Roman Catholic priest who molested him in the 1990s.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
March 7, 2011 2:59:32 PM PST
A man suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia says clergy covered up sexual assault allegations against a Roman Catholic priest who molested him in the 1990s.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in the city's Court of Common Pleas, plaintiff Phil Gaughan said he was assaulted from age 14 to 17 at Our Lady of Calvary church in northeast Philadelphia.

Gaughan was assigned to prepare and maintain the church sacristy, where vestments and other equipment are stored for Mass, when he said he was sexually abused by Monsignor John E. Gillespie from 1994 to 1997.

According to his lawsuit, which cites a grand jury report released last month, archdiocese officials knew as early as 1994 that Gillespie had a history of molesting boys but allowed him to continue in his ministry. The suit also states church officials lied when they told Gaughan's family that Gillespie didn't have any history of molesting children.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse. But Gaughan, 31, said he wanted his name printed in the hopes of helping other victims and prompting the church to make changes to protect children.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese did not immediately return a phone call from the AP seeking comment.

Gaughan said he kept his abuse a secret from his family until very recently.

"I don't want anybody to have to go through what I had to go through," he said at a news conference outside City Hall, his wife and father at his side. "I have a 7-year-old son. ... Something has to be done to protect the kids."

Now living in Delaware, Gaughan said he still is Catholic but does not attend Mass. Asked whether he would ever allow his son to work in a church like he did as a boy, he answered with an emphatic "No."

"Nothing has changed," he said.

His lawsuit states he has suffered emotional distress and disgrace because of his ordeal and seeks in excess of $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Among those named in Gaughan's suit are Cardinal Justin Rigali; his predecessor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua; and Monsignor William Lynn. From 1992 to 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by priests.

"They had full knowledge that a pedophile was within their system" yet chose to do nothing, said Marci Hamilton, an attorney for Gaughan.

The lawsuit, which includes allegations of conspiracy, fraud and fraudulent concealment, follows a criminal complaint filed last month by the district attorney's office against three priests and a high-ranking archdiocese official accused of failing to protect children from predator priests.

Gillespie, a friend of the Gaughan family for 40 years, remained in the priesthood until his death in 2008.

"We are staunch Catholics, always have been," said the victim's father, also named Philip Gaughan. "We were raised in the Catholic Church; we raised our children in the Catholic church."

The elder Gaughan, who is still a parishioner at Our Lady of Calvary, praised his son's courage and urged abuse victims to reach out to family members for support.

"It challenges your faith," he said.


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