March 7, 2011: Attorneys will announce a new lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has been the subject of a two-year grand jury investigation into claims officials ignored and covered up sex crimes against children. “The Lawsuit will allege that Archdiocese officials conspired to endanger the safety of the Plaintiff when they actively concealed their knowledge of (a) priest’s previous offences, lied to parishioners, and created a sham sexual abuse victim assistance program for the Archdiocese,” according to a news release announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit does not identify the plaintiff, but describes him as “an adult male individual who is a citizen and resident of the State of Delaware.” The suit identifies Daniel F. Monahan and Marci A. Hamilton as the attorneys for the plaintiff. In addition to the plaintiff, the lawsuit names seven parties in the complaint, including the archdiocese; Cardinal Justin Rigali, the current archbishop; Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, a former archbishop; and Monsignor William Lynn, a former top aide to Bevilacqua.
The suit accuses the defendants of conspiracy to endanger children, fraudulent concealment and actual fraud. The plaintiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest, on each of the three counts.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) stated documents obtained from an alleged victim in a Florida civil case show that authorities in Pennsylvania and New York should investigate Bevilacqua, who is retired. Last week, the victims’ rights organization called for further investigation of Bevilacqua, claiming records show that he ignored and covered up sex crimes against children “from the earliest days of his career.”
The documents obtained by the victims’ organization “essentially show that from the earliest days of his career, Bevilacqua has ignored and concealed child sex crimes,” stated David Clohessy, the group’s national director. The documents indicate that while serving as an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn, New York, Bevilacqua knew of incidents involving a priest, failed to inform the authorities, and assisted in the priest’s transfer from New York to St. Louis. The former priest, Romano Ferraro, is now serving a life sentence for raping a child in Massachusetts.
“Father Ferraro claims that his major problem is with boys 13 to 15 years of age,” Bevilacqua wrote in the 1977 document, followed by a reference to a molestation accusation from Ferraro’s time as a Navy chaplain. “The one in the Navy involved a 13 to 15 year old boy and it involved the incident of touching one boy in bed.” Ferraro was also accused of grabbing “one of the young boys twice” and then trying “to engage 2 of the other boys to a conversation and discussion on their masturbatory practices,” according to a handwritten letter that indicates that Bevilacqua received a copy.
Monsignor Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, stated the documents obtained by SNAP were released to Mike Mullen, the diocese’s attorney in the Florida case, who included them in court filings. The Florida case against Ferraro stemmed from allegations of abuse during his time as a U.S. Navy chaplain in Key West, Florida. The case was dismissed in 2007 after the parties reached “an amicable settlement,” according to Miami-Dade Circuit Court documents.
Harrington, however, insisted that Bevilacqua was not fully aware of Ferraro’s behavior and acted in accordance with the policy on handling such situations at the time. “As soon as he realized the situation with Father Ferraro, the guy was taken out of ministry and the Archdiocese of St. Louis was made aware of that,” Harrington stated. According to the documents released by prosecutors, Ferraro was placed in psychological treatment and transferred to St. Louis, where he was again accused of molesting boys. He was later denied any more positions within the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Bevilacqua, now 87 and reportedly in ill health, was one of the subjects of a two-year Philadelphia grand jury investigation that ended about three weeks ago. The grand jury despite determining there was “no doubt” Bevilacqua “endangered thousands of children in the Philadelphia Archdiocese” by his actions while archbishop, according to a grand jury report declined “for now” to press charges against him.
The grand jury report includes testimony that claimed Bevilacqua had insisted that the dismissal or resignation of priests accused of sexual misconduct be explained as matters of health and that parishioners were not to be informed. While Bevilacqua was not charged, three priests and a parochial school teacher were charged with raping and assaulting boys in their care, and Lynn was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children.
Lynn, who served as the secretary for clergy for Bevilacqua, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the alleged assaults, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams stated. From 1992 until 2004, Lynn was responsible for investigating reports that priests had sexually abused children, the district attorney’s office stated. The grand jury found that Lynn, 60, endangered children by knowingly allowing dangerous priests to continue in the ministry in roles in which they had access to kids.