When is a priest not a priest? When he’s molesting a child, diocese says in defense of lawsuit
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 02, 2014 at 6:31 AM, updated June 04, 2014 at 5:56 PM
Chris Naples says something snapped inside him that January day.
The Burlington County man sat in the gallery of the Delaware Supreme Court, watching as a lawyer for the Diocese of Trenton told the justices that the Rev. Terence McAlinden was not “on duty” — or serving in his capacity as a priest — when he allegedly molested Naples on trips to Delaware in the 1980s.
McAlinden, who once headed the diocese’s youth group, had introduced himself to Naples at a church-sponsored leadership retreat in Keyport. He’d heard his confession, included him in private Masses and discussed matters of spirituality with him.
Yet McAlinden wasn’t officially a priest when he took a teenage Naples to Delaware, the lawyer argued.
“How do we determine when a priest is and is not on duty?” one of the justices asked, according to a video of the session on the court’s website.
“Well,” replied the diocese lawyer, “you can determine a priest is not on duty when he is molesting a child, for example. … A priest abusing a child is absolutely contrary to the pursuit of his master’s business, to the work of a diocese.”
The statement — one prong of the diocese’s argument that it should not be held responsible for McAlinden’s alleged assaults — left Naples reeling.
“Any hope I had that the church was concerned about me as a victim or about the conduct of its priests was totally gone,” Naples, now 42, said in a recent interview. “They were washing their hands of it. I was shattered. I just couldn’t believe that was one of their arguments.”
Saying church officials must be held accountable for their handling of McAlinden, Naples has now filed suit against the diocese in Superior Court in Mercer County.
The lawsuit comes after the Delaware courts ruled Naples didn’t have jurisdiction to sue the diocese in that state because he couldn’t prove the trips were church-sanctioned. Naples did win a $3 million judgment against McAlinden individually in Delaware, though he has yet to see a penny.
He expects he never will, saying the priest has few assets.
“This has never been about the money,” Naples said. “It’s about exposing him for the monster that he is, and it’s about transparency in the diocese. They knew about McAlinden. They could have done something about it. And they did what every other diocese did. They kept it hush-hush and paid behind-the-scenes settlements.”
Also named as a defendant is St. Theresa’s Parish in Little Egg Harbor, where McAlinden was named pastor in 1988. For two decades leading up to the appointment, he served as director of the Catholic Youth Organization. The suit can be found here.
Naples, who lives with his wife and two children in New Gretna, first came forward to the diocese in 2007, alleging McAlinden sexually abused him for more than a decade, beginning when he was 13. The diocese investigated the claims, found them to be credible and suspended McAlinden from ministry, effectively ending his career as a priest.
Since then, two other men have made similar claims. One of the men, Patrick Newcombe, revealed at a press conference in 2011 that the diocese gave him a settlement in exchange for his silence. Newcombe first came forward in 1989 and reached a settlement in 1992. The other accuser, Bob Markulic, said McAlinden abused him in the 1960s at his first assignment, Our Lady of Victories Church in Sayreville.
Markulic received an undisclosed settlement from the diocese two years ago, said his attorney, Gregory Gianforcaro.
McAlinden, now 73, declined to comment when a reporter knocked on the door of his ranch-style home in Little Egg Harbor. He said he did not have an attorney.
During a December 2012 deposition in the Delaware court case, he acknowledged having an intense sexual relationship with Naples but said it began only after Naples turned 18.
He also admitted sleeping nude with “a number of” teen boys who were active in the diocese’s youth group. The overnights took place at Jeremiah House, the youth group’s headquarters in Keyport, and at the rectory of St. Theresa’s, he said. Other times, McAlinden said, teen boys bathed nude with him in a hot tub at his parents’ home in Toms River.
In the deposition, a copy of which has been obtained by The Star-Ledger, he called nudity in the hot tub “standard practice.” McAlinden said he had no sexual contact with the children.
Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the diocese, would not discuss the lawsuit or address McAlinden’s status.
Naples said the diocese told him in 2007 that McAlinden would be removed from the priesthood altogether, or laicized. Yet five years later, at the time of the deposition, McAlinden said he remained a priest, albeit a retired one, and drew a pension from the diocese. He augmented that pay by working as a real estate agent, he said.
‘He Knew How to Manipulate’
He called it “The Poor Box.”
McAlinden kept the 28-foot Bayliner cabin cruiser in Toms River, and to 13-year-old Chris Naples, it seemed pretty cool.
McAlinden offered to take him out on the boat when they met at the weekend leadership retreat in the summer of 1985. The teen’s mother, divorced and deeply religious, readily agreed, believing a priest would be a positive influence on her son, Naples said.
Nothing sexual happened on that first boat ride, a day trip, Naples said. An overnight trip followed on the Fourth of July. Naples said that day marked the first of hundreds of sexual assaults.
He contends McAlinden abused him at Jeremiah House, on the boat, in the rectory at St. Theresa’s, at the home of the priest’s parents in Toms River and on trips Delaware, Connecticut, New York, Atlantic City and the Virgin Islands.
In one instance, a housekeeper who was employed by the church walked into a bedroom while the two had sex, the suit states. It’s not clear if she reported what she saw. Other priests knew about Naples’ frequent sleepovers but said nothing, according to the suit.
One of those priests, the Rev. Thomas Triggs, served as assistant director of the diocese’s youth group under McAlinden. He frequently witnessed the teen walking into McAlinden’s room to spend the night, the suit states. Triggs also accompanied them on some of their trips, Naples said.
Triggs would go on to lead his own parish, St. Mary’s in Colts Neck. Last year, Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell removed him after The Star-Ledger reported he allowed the Rev. Michael Fugee to interact with the parish’s youth group.
Fugee had been barred from ministering to children for life following accusations he repeatedly groped a teenage boy. Fugee has since been laicized. Triggs could not be reached for comment.
Naples says his abuse continued into his mid-20s. Asked why he didn’t stop or report it, he said he couldn’t, that McAlinden had emotional and intellectual control over him.
“He knew how to manipulate,” Naples said. “He would say things like, ‘If your mother found out about this special thing we have, she would die,’” Naples said. “He called it our little secret. And I thought I was the only one.”
It was McAlinden who introduced Naples to his wife, Patty, now a teacher. McAlinden presided over their marriage and baptized their two children. He is godfather to one of the kids.
Naples said he didn’t realize how badly the relationship with McAlinden affected him, even after it stopped being sexual in 1997. He felt he was “smothering in Saran wrap,” yet he didn’t know why.
Patty Naples noticed.
In an interview at the couple’s home, she said her husband became increasingly withdrawn and distant. By 2007, she was sure he was having an affair. On July 2 of that year, she confronted him. Chris Naples stormed out.
Hours later, he sat in his driveway, contemplating suicide, he said.
Ultimately, he told her that he’d been harboring a secret throughout their lives together.
“He said, ‘I was abused by Mac,’ and he just crashed,” Patty Naples said. “He was crying, and I was sobbing, and I was like, ‘No.’ I didn’t want to believe it, but Chris was breaking down in front of me, and I knew it was true.”
A month later, Naples brought his allegations to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. He said a detective was sympathetic but told him the alleged crimes were beyond the criminal statute of limitations.
Naples also confronted his alleged abuser during a phone call he taped. McAlinden made no apologies for the sexual contact during the conversation, which The Star-ledger has reviewed.
“At no time did I feel like I was using you or taking advantage of you,” McAlinden says on the tape.
Today, as he prepares for another lengthy legal showdown, Naples says he isn’t motivated by anger. He calls himself the “church’s best victim” because he has refrained from public attacks on the diocese.
But he said he wants an acknowledgment that the diocese could have done more. He said he also hopes his suit sends a message to other alleged victims.
“If it helps others who may be choosing something bad,” he said, referring to his own thoughts of suicide, “then they know they’re not alone.”