|Priest Faces Out-Of-State Lawsuit
By Renee K. Gadoua
The Post-Standard [Syracuse NY]
July 14, 2007
An Oneida County man plans to sue a Roman Catholic priest now living in Syracuse for sexual abuse he said happened in Delaware on more than 200 occasions between 1967 to 1976.
The accused priest, the Rev. Francis G. DeLuca, pleaded guilty in Syracuse City Court July 28 to misdemeanor charges of molesting a teenage boy in Syracuse from 2002 to 2005.
The Oneida County man, Ronald Santee Jr. of Rome, is able to file suit because a new Delaware law, signed Tuesday by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, eliminates that state's two-year civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. The Child Victim's Act also provides a two-year window to file suits in past cases. In New York, recent attempts to extend the statute of limitations or provide a grace period to file suit for past incidents have failed in the state Legislature.
Thomas Neuberger, an attorney in Wilmington, Del., said he expects to file at least 13 suits involving allegations against priests in Delaware.
"We believe it happened," Neuberger said. "His stories are entirely consistent with the other victims."
DeLuca, 77, was dismissed from public ministry in Delaware in 1993 after being accused of sexually abusing a boy in the 1960s. He retired to Syracuse, citing health reasons. Catholic officials here were not warned of the allegations against DeLuca until October 2003. That came after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved policies about clergy sex abuse.
A day after Syracuse police charged
DeLuca in October, his bishop in Wilmington requested the Vatican remove him from the priesthood.
DeLuca could not be reached for comment. The telephone at his former Syracuse residence has been disconnected.
An official with the Wilmington Diocese has said at least four men have accused DeLuca of abusing them. The priest was never charged with a crime in Delaware.
Neuberger and victims' advocates praised the new Delaware law.
"The civil statute is the last measure of judgment for the church," said Mark Serrano, a board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "We have to hold institutions accountable. It's very important for victims to seek justice."
Last month, the New York State Assembly approved a bill that would provide a one-year window allowing suits by anyone barred from bringing suit for past sex offenses because of the statute of limitations.
The bill also would extend criminal and civil statutes of limitations to five years for cases of sexual abuse against minors and would give victims until age 28 to bring charges or a suit against their attackers. The statute is now three years in most cases.
The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Maspeth.
"A lot of this happens when people are very young, and they don't remember or they bury it in their subconscious until they can deal with it," Markey said. "When they address this, they have been barred by time."
The bill is cosponsored by Assemblyman William Magnarelli, D-Syracuse. It is awaiting action in the state Senate.
The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops on public policy, opposes any legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations for past incidents, said Dennis Poust.
"It's a trial lawyers' bill to enrich lawyers. It is an attempt by lawyers to attack what they see as the deep pockets of the church," Poust said.
"This bill would not help one child," he said.
A troubled life
Santee, 47, said he's been in counseling for five years. He learned about DeLuca's October arrest in Syracuse on the Internet. After that, he contacted civil and church officials in Wilmington about his experience. He said the diocese has not contacted him.
Santee said he blames DeLuca for a troubled life, which he said has included jail time, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide attempts.
"I'm a messed-up guy. He's the fault for everything," he said.
He said DeLuca began molesting him when he was 7 and his family was living in Delaware. Santee is one of six children. He said his mother was a homemaker, his father a trucker. He said the abuse ended when he was 16 and his family moved out of state.
His mother would invite De- Luca, then their parish priest, to dinner, he said.
Santee said the sexual encounters, which escalated, took place in his bedroom, at the church and at motels when DeLuca took him on trips out of state.
Santee no longer goes to church. Many people who drive past churches make the sign of the cross. Santee cries, he said.
Santee dropped out of school in the eighth grade. Health problems prevent him from working, and depression often paralyzes him, he said.
He admits a financial windfall from winning a civil lawsuit would be nice.
"No matter if I end up with 4 or 5 or 6 million (dollars), I'm still going to feel this hurt, the pain, the question, why was I raped by this priest?"
Renee K. Gadoua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 470-2203.
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