Judge sends priest-abuse lawsuit to trialEx-Salesianum student accuses principal
WILMINGTON, Del. â€” A Superior Court judge Wednesday ruled that alawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a former principal of SalesianumSchool may go to trial.
The ruling gives former Salesianumstudent Eric Eden a rare opportunity to present evidence to a Delawarejury and try to prove his allegations that a priest sexually abusedhim. Most such allegations have not made it to court -- criminal orcivil -- because of Delaware's statutes of limitations.
Judge Calvin L. Scott Jr. ruled that Eden could not sue for a 1985incident he reported to his parents because Delaware's two-year civilstatute of limitations had expired. But, Scott ruled, Eden can sue forthe 900 incidents he did not report because, according to apsychiatrist's report, Eden had repressed the memory of those allegedassaults until clergy sexual abuse emerged as a national scandal in2002. Contact Beth Miller at 302.324-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eden'ssuit, filed in 2004, alleges that the Rev. James W. O'Neill molestedEden, formerly Eric Mazzetti, twice a week from 1976 to 1985. Thealleged abuse sometimes happened at the private Catholic school,sometimes at the Mazzetti home when O'Neill said he was tutoring theboy and during a family vacation.
Scott's ruling does not mean the allegations are true, but it does mean that evidence now can be presented to a Delaware jury.
Eden's attorney Thomas S. Neuberger said his client was "very, very happy" with the ruling.
"Myclient will now be able to obtain legal relief from a jury of 12 menand women for the unspeakable crimes committed on his person, thewreckage of his ruined life and full punishment for this worldwideconspiracy to endanger children," Neuberger said.
Neuberger said the case is Delaware's first repressed-memory pedophile case, and said he now expects to file more.
MarkReardon, attorney for Salesianum and the Oblates of St. Francis deSales, the religious order that oper-ates the school, said Wednesday hehad not yet spoken with his clients and could not comment on theirreaction.
"By no means do we view this as a defeat," he said."We expect that the discovery process will confirm that the incidentsthe plaintiff has alleged and recently recalled from 20 years ago didnot happen or did not happen the way he now recalls," Reardon said.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Eden's case is rare.
"We'regrateful that Eric has the strength and courage and ability to exposein court an abusive priest and a complicit bishop," Clohessy said. "Fewvictims have that opportunity and even fewer are emotionally able topursue criminal or civil action. And we are grateful that this judge,like many across the country, appreciates that some horrific childhoodtrauma is repressed and that victims can't be expected to takeimmediate action if they don't even know they've been victimized."
Theproblem of clergy sexual abuse has made news again in Delaware sinceOctober, when a former Delaware priest was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y.,for sexually abusing a teen there. Because of concern that otheraccused priests might pose a continuing danger, Bishop Michael A.Saltarelli last month released the names and former assignments of 20priests he said had substantiated allegations of child sexual abuseagainst them. None remain in active ministry, church officials say.Eight are dead.
Saltarelli did not release the names ofreligious order priests, such as O'Neill. The allegations againstO'Neill emerged after Eden filed suit. The Oblates of St. Francis deSales have no plan to release names of other accused priests, attorneyVincent Morrison said Wednesday.
Only Saltarelli was dismissedby Scott from Eden's suit against Salesianum, because Saltarelli didnot become bishop until 1996. The bishop who was in office at the timeof the alleged abuse is dead. Scott refused to dismiss the school, theOblates of St. Francis de Sales or the Diocese of Wilmington from thesuit.
According to the lawsuit, Eden told his parents of theabuse in 1985 and they confronted church and school officials. Edenalleges that the Oblates made an agreement with Eden's parents thatO'Neill would be removed permanently from youth-related ministry, sentfor treatment and would have no further contact with the Mazzettis. Inexchange, they would not report the allegations.
Instead,O'Neill was reassigned to Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster,Pa., and later to the pastorate of St. Paul the Apostle Church inGreensboro, N.C.
A spokesman for the order told The News Journal in 2004 that no agreement was made to sequester O'Neill.
The jury will decide whether church officials breached a contract.
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