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Scandal notebook

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2002


Federal suit alleges all U.S. bishops are part of coverup

Federal suit alleges all U.S. bishops are part of coverup

ST. LOUIS -- A former seminary student who says he was molested by a priest in the 1980s accused all U.S. bishops of conspiring to cover up sexual abuse in a federal lawsuit that cites racketeering laws meant to bring down the mob.

The lawsuit filed Friday specifically names former West Palm Beach Bishop Anthony O'Connell, who was a rector at the seminary, St. Thomas Aquinas in Hannibal, Mo.

But it also goes further, naming three dioceses where O'Connell worked and alleging that every bishop in the United States conspired to keep abuse claims secret, often through hushed financial settlements with victims. It cites the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was written to combat organized crime but can cover civil cases that involve a "pattern" of illegal activity.

The federal racketeering statute has been argued in at least two other church abuse cases, none successfully.

Attorney Patrick Noaker alleges that bishops maintain secret files concerning priests accused of sexual misconduct. Often, he said, priests are sent to other states to make extradition difficult.

"What we have is evidence that the Catholic Church has aided in obstructing and hiding this information from law enforcement agencies," Noaker said.

Officials with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and all three dioceses declined to comment.

The lawsuit does not specify damages and does not name the 34-year-old plaintiff.

It says O'Connell began sexually abusing the man when he was a freshman at the seminary, beginning with O'Connell pressing the boy to discuss sexual fantasies and eventually leading to physical contact.

O'Connell has been in seclusion since resigning as bishop March 8 after admitting he sexually abused a different seminarian at St. Thomas.

At that time, O'Connell said there could be "one other person of a somewhat similar situation, in a somewhat similar time frame," but he would not elaborate.

On Monday, another former seminary student filed a lawsuit against O'Connell. Noaker says five others have told him they were abused.

2 priests accused of sexual abuse served in Palm Beach diocese

WEST PALM BEACH -- Two Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing boys in New York relocated to South Florida and served in the Palm Beach diocese in recent years, a newspaper reported.

The Rev. Anthony Failla was leading mass and hearing confessions in Boca Raton in December 2000, after he had been forced to leave his Brooklyn parish because three nuns said he molested a teenage boy.

Failla served for about a month at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church before church officials realized he did not have the proper credentials and asked him to leave, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Reached at his Boca Raton home, Failla said he did not want to comment.

The Rev. Peter Duvelsdorf served six years in the Diocese of Palm Beach until he was arrested and accused of exposing himself in St. Lucie County in December 1997.

Duvelsdorf had arrived in Florida with a letter of blessing from his bishop in Long Island, despite accusations that he sexually abused two teenage brothers in the 1970s, officials said. Duvelsdorf, who served at Holy Cross Church in Vero Beach and St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach, now lives in a residence for retired priests in New York, but could not be reached for comment.

Former big league baseball player says priest abused him, brothers

DETROIT -- Former major league baseball player Tom Paciorek says he and three of his brothers were molested when they were children by a priest who was removed this week from another Michigan church.

The brothers grew up just outside Hamtramck on Detroit's east side and attended Hamtramck St. Ladislaus, where the Rev. Gerald Shirilla was a teacher. Shirilla was removed Wednesday from St. Mary Catholic Church in Alpena, in northern Michigan, where he accepted an assignment last August.

Shirilla, 63, has not responded to repeated requests for comment. His attorney, Michael Smith, told the Detroit Free Press that the priest has done nothing that would make him unfit for ministry.

Paciorek, 55, who now works for Fox Sports Net, said he lodged a complaint about Shirilla with the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1993 after another former student filed a lawsuit about the priest. The archdiocese placed Shirilla on administrative leave in response and prohibited him from public ministry. However, the lawsuit was dismissed in 1999 because the statute of limitations had run out; state law required victims abused as minors to file for monetary civil damages before they turned 19.

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