Eight men and a woman publicly accused Roman Catholic priests and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday of child sex abuse, saying they found courage to come forward after the conviction in June of a top church official in the wide-ranging pedophilia scandal.
The nine filed civil lawsuits accusing the Archdiocese and church officials of conspiring to conceal incidents of sex abuse, failing to address the problem and ignoring complaints about abusive clergy, according to attorneys who announced the cases at a news conference in Philadelphia.
Problems with abusive priests in the Philadelphia diocese had been flagged in a 2003 grand jury report that found church leaders failed to report abuse to authorities. These lawsuits cite alleged abuse dating back to 1970.
The alleged victims opted to come forward after the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, a top official found guilty of covering up sex abuse allegations, often by transferring priests to unsuspecting parishes, said Marci Hamilton, an attorney in the case.
The alleged victims were children who attended Roman Catholic schools and churches in the Philadelphia area, where they say in the lawsuits they were molested and assaulted by priests and that their complaints went unheeded.
One of the plaintiffs, Andrew Druding of Philadelphia, spoke at the news conference about his abuse in the early 1970s, allegedly at the hands of a priest who directed a choir at a church where his parents were married and he had been baptized.
“You took advantage of a 9-year-old boy who loved to sing and was afraid to tell because you were a priest, God’s messenger on Earth, the most holy person in my life,” he said.
“This is my opportunity, to an extent, to fight back,” he said, as his wife of 28 years, Denise, wept.
In a statement, the Archdiocese said it had not seen copies of the lawsuits.
“We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance.”
The lawsuits collectively seek nearly $2 million in damages and name Lynn, seven priests and former priests, the Archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired as archbishop in 2011.
The sweeping sex abuse scandal has cost billions in settlements and driven prominent U.S. dioceses into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Archdiocese already faces several civil lawsuits claiming abuse and faces legal costs estimated at more than $11 million.
Lynn, the highest-ranking church official to be convicted in the scandal, was sentenced to three to six years in prison in July. He acted as secretary of the clergy, overseeing 800 priests in the Archdiocese of 1.5 million members, the nation’s sixth largest.
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The ex-Devon Prep teacher, suspected of sex assault in the 1990s, was working in the Philippines. He is now in supervised therapy. (The religious order is the Piarists, or the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools. Can ya stand it?)
The religious order that let one of its priests relocate to the Philippines after he allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old Devon Prep student in the 1990s says it has removed him from active ministry, almost two decades after the attack.
The Rev. Theodore Podson relocated last month to a residential therapy center and “is being submitted to a carefully controlled supervision,” a Rome-based spokesman for the Piarists order said Friday.
The move came after The Inquirer reported that Podson, 64, was working as a priest and promoting himself as a teen mentor 20 years after officials at the Main Line boys school and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia concluded he had sexually abused a minor.
The order’s spokesman, Giorgi Pezza, declined to identify where Podson was transferred but said the setting includes “integral supervision” by superiors in his order.
He also said Podson has no interaction with boys. “He was strictly forbidden to do so,” Pezza said in an e-mail.
Podson’s name and history as a suspected pedophile emerged in secret church files introduced during the child sex-abuse and endangerment trial of two archdiocesan priests this year.
He was one of seven religious-order clerics whom Msgr. William J. Lynn, a former ranking aide to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, had included on a 1994 list of dozens of area priests who had admitted or were suspected of sexually abusing minors.
The list was among thousands of documents introduced at Lynn’s landmark child-endangerment trial.
The seven priests worked at Catholic high schools and celebrated Masses in the region, but some, including Podson, had never before been publicly identified as abusers because they were outside the authority of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Podson, a native of the area, was a Devon Prep alumnus who joined the staff in 1985 after teaching at Calasanctius Prep, a now-defunct Piarist school in Buffalo.
He was a “cool” and popular teacher at Devon Prep, according to several former students who asked not to be identified. Podson also regularly ran summer trips for the boys to destinations across the country and the world.
One was a June 1993 trip to Greece. After that trip, a student on it reported to school officials that Podson had sexually assaulted him.
The boy also told Ellen Murphy, a chaperone on the trip. In an interview last month, Murphy recalled that the boy told her Podson had abused him more than once.
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A New London woman who says she was molested as a child by a now-deceased priest will receive $1.1 million from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich after a retiring Superior Court judge spent his last day on the bench mediating the settlement.
Her lawsuit alleged that diocese officials, including former Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly, knew that Shea had a history of abuse allegations and moved him from parish to parish.
As word spread in the courtroom Thursday that a settlement had been reached, Maynard turned to face Reilly, who was sitting no more than 5 feet away at the defense table.
“Shame on you,” she said to Reilly, who did not respond and was quickly led out of court.
“Through this whole process he’s been sitting there laughing and I just couldn’t understand that,” Maynard said. “He never apologized.”
Reilly was at Superior Court in Hartford preparing to testify as the first witness in what was scheduled to be at least a two-week trial when word filtered out of Judge Carl Schuman’s chambers that a settlement was afoot.
Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, on his last day as a judge, met with attorneys from both sides to iron out the last-minute deal. Holzberg is retiring after 22 years on the bench. Just hours away from attending his own retirement party, Holzberg took the bench in Schuman’s courtroom and presided over the final settlement of the more than 5-year-old case.
Holzberg has gained a reputation as a master mediator after presiding over the settlements of two massive civil cases — the claims made after the Kleen Energy power plant explosion and the claims against St. Francis Hospital & Medical Center related to sexual abuse allegations against former endocrinologist George Reardon.
The judge had previously attempted mediation in the diocese case. Attorneys from both sides decided late Wednesday to try one more time.
“We appreciate you taking time out on your last day of state service to help reach a final settlement in a very difficult case,” New London attorney Robert Reardon, who represented Maynard and is not related to George Reardon, told Holzberg.
Shea is suspected of abusing as many as 15 girls in 11 different parishes from 1953 through the 1970s. He died in 2006.
Maynard said she was abused in 1976. Reilly was the bishop at that time. Reardon was planning to introduce hundreds of church documents that showed Reilly and others knew that Shea had been accused of abusing girls for many years yet installed him in a parish that had a girls’ school.
“The year I was born was the first time they got a complaint against (Shea). He should have never been able to do what he did to me,” Maynard said.
The diocese had sought a delay in the case, citing publicity from the $60 million fine levied against Penn State by the NCAA following the conviction on sexual abuse charges of former coach Jerry Sandusky, among other reasons. The diocese attorneys argued that the large fine could desensitize jurors in this case or affect potential damages.
In court papers, Reardon had said that his client was seeking about $1.1 million, including $515,000 in mental health expenses from 2004-2012; $216,000 in lost wages after she left her job as a blackjack dealer at the Mohegan Sun casino in 2003; and more than $400,000 in potential future wages.
Maynard came forward after reading about other cases of sexual abuse by priests.
“I held it in until I was 42 years old because I never wanted my father or mother to ever know what happened to me,” Maynard said. The settlement was “bittersweet.”
“I am relieved in one sense that it’s over, but there is also a great deal of disappointment that the church wouldn’t apologize,” she said.
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