Wrongful death claim filed against Philadelphia Archdiocese
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is facing a wrongful death suit
April 7th, 2011
10:54 AM ET

Wrongful death claim filed against Philadelphia Archdiocese

By Sarah Hoye, CNN

Philadelphia (CNN) - A new wrongful death claim against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali was filed Wednesday on behalf of the family of Daniel Neill, a 36-year-old former St. Mark Parish altar boy who committed suicide in 2009 after reporting he had been sexually abused by a priest.

Neill's suicide and allegations of sexual abuse were included in a recent Philadelphia grand jury report released in February.

The case is just one chapter of a broader legal story for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. The wrongful death lawsuit is the second civil suit filed against the archdiocese and Rigali involving an alleged victim named in the 2011 grand jury report. Three additional civil suits alleging sexual abuse, by parties not named in the grand jury report, also have been filed against the Philadelphia archdiocese since February.

Neill's sister, Michelle Forsyth, and mother, Mary Neill, filed the lawsuit so that children can be better protected, they said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It is simply our desire to perhaps get the Archdiocese officials to recognize their obligations and to do a better job of healing the wounded and protecting the children - instead of being concerned about their reputation. Our family member said more than once, 'I am not looking for anything other than for the Church to believe me,' " the family said in the statement.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia declined to comment on Wednesday's lawsuit, an archdiocese spokesman said.

This year's grand jury report is the city's second report issued regarding priests' alleged sexual abuse in Philadelphia. The first grand jury report came out in 2003. And this is the first time that a Catholic church leader has been charged criminally for an alleged cover-up.

These lawsuits were filed in response to new information released in the 2011 grand jury report that involves Monsignor William Lynn, who is facing criminal charges, accused of endangering the welfare of children and having knowledge about perpetrators.

Lynn served as the secretary for clergy under the former Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua. Lynn is expected to plead not guilty, according to his attorney, Thomas Bergstrom.

The 2011 report led to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office criminally charging three Philadelphia priests and a parochial school teacher with raping and assaulting boys in their care, while a former official with the archdiocese was accused of allowing the abusive priests to have access to children, the city's district attorney's office said. All five have also been charged with conspiracy.

The grand jury report says that on October 15, 2007, Neill reported to an archdiocese victim assistance coordinator that Rev. Joseph J. Gallagher had repeatedly fondled him when he was a minor and served as an altar boy at St. Mark Parish in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

According to the grand jury report, Neill told the victim assistance coordinator that during his childhood, Gallagher discussed masturbation during confession; fondled him during outings in the priest's car, at the house of the priest's mother, upstairs in the rectory, in a utility room in the sacristy and in a loft in the church; and that the priest also hit the boy.

According to the grand jury report, on July 24, 2008, Neill was notified that the Archdiocese Review Board could not substantiate his allegation. Neill committed suicide on June 6, 2009. The grand jury report also said that Gallagher, though retired, still regularly assisted at St. Jerome and St. Timothy parishes in Philadelphia as well as St. Thomas Aquinas in Croyden, Pennsylvania.

Attempts by CNN to reach Gallagher have been unsuccessful. In addition, no criminal charges have been brought against Gallagher.

Following the release of the 2011 grand jury report, Cardinal Rigali removed Gallagher from active ministry on February 16.

As of March 7, 23 priests in the Philadelphia area have been placed on administrative leave, including two retired priests placed on leave on March 30.

"I want to be clear: These administrative leaves are interim measures. They are not in any way final determinations or judgments," said Rigali said in a statement on March 8. On March 25, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes imposed a gag order barring all parties involved in the criminal case from talking to the media.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Courts • Sex abuse

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