Philly archdiocese faces latest priest abuse suit

Attorney Jeff Anderson holds a photo of the "John Doe" plaintiff when he was a boy. The "John Doe" filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Archdiocese on Monday.

March 21, 2011 3:22:08 PM PDT
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was hit Monday with the fourth in a series of new lawsuits that blame church officials for failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests.

The lawsuits mirror accusations made by city prosecutors in a grand jury report last month that led several priests to be charged with rape and, in a rare move, a church official to be charged with child endangerment.

Monday's suit, filed by a 32-year-old Arizona man, is the second that names the late Monsignor John E. Gillespie as the abuser. A 2005 grand jury report said Gillespie was alleged to have committed abuse, but frustrated prosecutors concluded the deadlines had passed to file criminal charges.

The "John Doe" who sued Monday said Gillespie had abused him from 1988 to 1991, when he was an altar boy at the Our Lady of Calvary parish in northeast Philadelphia. Gillespie continued to work around children despite repeated complaints to the archdiocese, and even after Gillespie was sent for sex-abuse treatment sometime before 1991, the suit said.

The suit relies on findings by the latest grand jury, which alleged the archdiocese was using its victim-services office to protect church interests, not victims.

The Arizona man, in his first complaint to the archdiocese, called the office last year about Gillespie.

"He was blown off," said lawyer Jeffrey Anderson. "They denied this John Doe a chance to get help. ... They knew that Gillespie was a serial offender."

The 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report alleges that Gillespie's abuse dated as far back as 1957. He resigned from his parish assignment in 2000, after then-Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua determined he was a risk, but remained active in ministry, the suit said.

The defendants include Bevilacqua; Cardinal Justin Rigali; Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy who was charged last month with child endangerment; Karen Becker, head of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection; and Maggie Marshall, a victim assistance coordinator.

The archdiocese declined to comment.

Lynn's lawyer, Jeffrey M. Lindy, said his client became secretary for clergy in about 1993, after the abuse alleged in Monday's suit. He said he would respond to allegations that Lynn failed to act on later complaints about Gillespie after reviewing the lawsuit.

Gillespie, who remained in the priesthood until his death in 2008, is also named in a recent lawsuit filed by the same lawyers on behalf of Phil Gaughan, 31, of Delaware. Gaughan, a former altar boy, said Gillespie had assaulted him from 1994 to 1997, beginning when he was 14. Although The Associated Press does not typically name sex-assault victims, Gaughan said he wants his name publicized to prompt church reforms.

The civil lawsuits each seek more than $50,000 in damages.

Meanwhile, the next hearing in the criminal case is set for Friday, when Lynn's lawyers hope to have the endangerment charge dropped on grounds that he was not the legal guardian of any particular child.

Prosecutors allege that Lynn transferred predator priests without warning new parishes of the danger. Three other priests or former priests, along with a former Catholic school teacher, are charged with rape.