8 more sex-abuse suits filed against Archdiocese
BY DANA DiFILIPPO
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Staff Writer
ANDY DRUDING has a lot to say to the priest who he says repeatedly raped him when he was a middle-school choir boy.
So he wrote the Rev. Francis S. Feret a letter. He wanted to give it to him personally, but hasn’t – still scared, after 40 years, to see Feret again.
But Tuesday, Druding read his letter in the most public of venues: a news conference at which it was announced that eight more lawsuits have been filed, including one by Druding, against the Philadelphia Archdiocese, its leaders and seven priests accused of sexually abusing children.
A flushed, sweating, trembling Druding took the podium and read, as if addressing Feret, his former choir director at St. Timothy’s Catholic School in Mayfair: “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. But I’ve never forgotten what you did to me. I remember every day of my life, the details so graphic and so horrific. I see your face all the time in my mind, in strangers’ faces, in scary dreams and even in terrible flashbacks that I have to this day.”
The eight lawsuits filed Tuesday by attorneys Dan Monahan, Marci Hamilton and Jeffrey Anderson follow eight others the legal trio filed earlier in Common Pleas Court. Altogether, the legal team represents 17 people who say they were sexually abused as children by Philadelphia-area priests.
The cases cite Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Monsignor William Lynn, in addition to the accused priests.
In most of the cases, the victims are listed as John Does. But plaintiffs Druding and Michael McDonnell, 44, of Bristol Borough, Bucks County, attended the Center City news conference because they want their names out there.
“It’s important to put a face to the cost – show the doubting public that these victims do exist. We do live our lives. Although we struggle on a daily basis, we are real people who have countless issues,” said McDonnell, as his fiancée, Debra, cried and their 6-year-old son, Sean, sang and played with a Thomas the Tank Engine toy.
McDonnell accuses two priests, John P. Schmeer and Francis X. Trauger, of molesting him when he was an altar boy and worked at the rectory at St. Titus Catholic School in East Norriton.
Hamilton said Druding, McDonnell and the unnamed victims gained the courage to come forward after Lynn’s July conviction. Lynn, 61, who investigated abuse complaints against priests as the Archdiocese’s former secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004, is the first U.S. church official convicted of endangering children by keeping predator priests in the ministry. He was sentenced to three to six years in prison.
The lawsuits, Hamilton said, are the only way to hold the Archdiocese accountable.
“The coverup, the incompetence in handling reports of abuse, must stop,” said Hamilton, a national expert on clergy sex abuse and law professor at Yeshiva University in New York. “No one knew more about abuse than the Archdiocese itself, and no one did less to protect children. . . . The only way to protect children is the criminal-justice system.”
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Archdiocese responded: “We have not received copies of the cases . . . so we cannot provide more detailed information on those particular lawsuits at this time. We believe lawsuits are not the best mechanism to promote healing in the context of the very private and difficult circumstances of sexual abuse. We will work to assure all victims of sexual abuse receive appropriate assistance.”
Besides Feret, Schmeer and Trauger, the priests named in the lawsuits are John H. Mulholland, Robert L. Brennan, Joseph J. Gallagher and Edward V. Avery (defrocked).