Church secrecy revealed in suit over child abuse Damages sought by woman raped as girl by priest

September 06, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

A $100 million lawsuit brought by a woman who was sexually abused as a child by a Roman Catholic priest is scheduled for trial tomorrow. It provides a public view of the church's secretive handling of clergy misconduct.

Selection of a jury and trial of the case, set to begin before Judge Hilary D. Caplan in Baltimore Circuit Court, coincide with efforts by the Catholic archdiocese to deal with unrelated sexual abuse accusations against another priest, a popular Baltimore County pastor who committed suicide Aug. 21.

The lawsuit raises questions about the adequacy of church officials' response to evidence of sexual abuse by priests.

Richard G. Deakin, 38, a former Capuchin friar whose conviction on rape and child abuse charges in 1990 led to the suit, had a history of deviant sexual behavior, court documents say.

But Deakin's religious superiors allowed him to continue his ministry even though they were aware of his pattern of lewd behavior, the victim alleges.

Among the defendants named along with Deakin are the Baltimore Archdiocese and retired Archbishop William D. Borders.

A central question to be decided by the jury is whether church authorities took reasonable precautions to protect the girl from the criminal advances of the clergyman under their supervision.

Most of the abuse occurred between 1985 and 1987 while Deakin was assistant pastor of St. Martin's Church at Fulton Avenue and Fayette Street in West Baltimore.

The defense lawyers claim the girl was guilty of contributory negligence because she did not report to the priest's superiors or to the police what he was doing to her at that time.

Now 21, she was 13 when the three-year sexual relationship with the priest began. In 1990, more than two years after it ended, she told her mother, who called police.

Court documents say Deakin's child abuse began with fondling in 1985. After January 1986, he and the girl were having intercourse five times a week. The locations were the priest's bedroom in the friary, his office, the church basement, Sunday School rooms and the parish automobile.

A significant aspect of the case is that Judge Caplan, in a ruling April 20 last year, blocked efforts by archdiocesan attorneys to force the names of the sex-abuse victim and her mother into the public record.

Traditional pseudonyms, Jane and Mary Doe, are being used. That their true identities are known to all the defendants has never been in question.

In at least two earlier civil suits involving a local priest who abused boys in Anne Arundel County, the boys' families had settled out of court to protect their privacy because judges agreed with the archdiocese that trials could proceed only if the victims' actual names were used.

The current suit was filed Jan. 14, 1992. Since then, numerous pleadings and hundreds of pages of documents have been added. The suit alleges that the victim "suffers and will suffer in the future from emotional distress, anxiety, fear, physical anguish, and psychological and emotional trauma."

The court documents say she has received extensive inpatient treatment at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson.

In addition to the Baltimore Archdiocese, Deakin and Archbishop Borders, the defendants are the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Province of St. Augustine, to which Deakin belonged before being dismissed for getting married Dec. 13, 1989; Monsignor G. Michael Schleupner, formerly chancellor of the Baltimore Archdiocese; and four officials of the Capuchin order, which staffs St. Martin's parish. They are the Very Rev. Francis Fugini, the Rev. John Harvey, the Rev. Ward Stakem and the Rev. William J. Wiethorn.

The suit seeks for the victim $30 million in damages for each of three counts: negligent hiring and supervision, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On behalf of the victim's mother, the suit is asking for an additional $10 million in damages.

The decision of Archbishop Borders and the Capuchins to assign Deakin to St. Martin's, the suit alleges, "created an unreasonable risk of harm to its parishioners, especially female adolescents."

Giving Deakin supervision over youth groups, in particular, is described in the suit as "reckless" and "outrageous." It says the priest was long known to have been unable to live a celibate existence.

Criticized by superiors

Depositions relate that Deakin, who had been in training for the priesthood from the age of 13, was romantically involved with a girl in Annapolis before and after taking the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty.

Despite criticism by his superiors of his repeated use of church money to visit X-rated movie theaters and to obtain pornographic materials, he was ordained to the priesthood in April 1985.

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