Archdiocese of Philadelphia agrees to pay $3.5 million to settle sexual assault case, plaintiff’s attorneys say

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CNN
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The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a case alleging one of its priests sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy nearly 20 years ago, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

“This latest settlement holds the archdiocese accountable for failing to protect our client and other children,” David Inscho, an attorney for the plaintiff, said in a statement Wednesday.

The incident took place in 2006 when the plaintiff was 14 years old and in seventh grade, serving as an altar boy and attending religious school at a parish in a Philadelphia suburb, according to court documents filed in the civil case.

The plaintiff said he was taken to the office of pastor John Close, who was overseeing children’s religious education classes at the parish for counseling around 2006, the complaint said.

Close told the boy he needed to be “cleansed” and then raped him, according to the complaint. Then, Close said the boy would “suffer eternal damnation” if he did not stay quiet about the assault, according to a pre-trial memorandum.

The following year, the boy stopped serving as an altar boy after Close cornered him before mass while he was changing clothes, according to the complaint. Close retired in 2012 and died in 2018, according to the archdiocese.

In a statement, the archdiocese acknowledged the settlement and said it had no knowledge of this allegation prior to Close’s death, adding it reported the allegation to law enforcement when it was brought to their attention by the plaintiff’s attorneys in 2019.

“With today’s announcement, the Archdiocese reaffirms its longstanding commitment to preventing child abuse, protecting the young people entrusted to its care, and providing holistic means of compassionate support for those who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of our clergy,” the archdiocese said.

“We deeply regret the pain suffered by any survivor of child sexual abuse and have a sincere desire to help victims on their path to healing.”

The victim’s lawyers said the rape had a “catastrophic” effect on their client’s life, resulting in “severe psychological effects, substance abuse and the loss of educational, economic and personal opportunities throughout his life,” according to a pre-trial memorandum.

The complaint, filed in 2020, accused the archdiocese of “negligence, recklessness and outrageous conduct” for “failing to observe and supervise the relationship” between the plaintiff and Close, failing to identify the priest’s “prior sexual abuse of children” and failing to remove Close from the ministry despite allegations he had abused children.

The complaint alleged the archdiocese was made aware of two reports of sexual assault against Close prior to the 2006 incident. In both instances, the archdiocese did not report the allegations to law enforcement or remove the priest from ministry, the court document said.

“The Archdiocese received an allegation in 2004 from an adult serving a prison sentence for murder alleging that he had been sexually abused by Close from 1967 to 1969. The Archdiocese determined that the allegations were unsubstantiated after an investigation by a former FBI agent and submission of the results to the Archdiocesan Review Board,” the archdiocese said in its answer to the complaint.

The plaintiff’s lawyers alleged in the complaint the archdiocese was aware of Close’s abusive behaviors.

“However, the Archdiocese consciously disregarded this risk and failed to act to protect future children,” the lawyers’ statement said.

In 2011, another victim told the archdiocese that Close had sexually assaulted him in the 1990s, prompting the archdiocese to put the priest on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to the court document.

But the following year, the archbishop determined the alleged abuse was “unsubstantiated” and Close was “suitable for ministry,” the complaint said.

In its response to the complaint, the archdiocese said it did not breach any duty of care to the plaintiff and “was not on notice of any substantiated claims of sexual abuse against Close before the time of the alleged abuse.”

The victim’s attorneys noted that at the time of his death, Close was in good standing with the Catholic Church and held the honorary title ‘Monsignor.’

Beyond the specific allegations against Close, the client’s lawyers allege in the complaint the archdiocese’s decades-long pattern of covering up predatory behavior by a number of its priests contributed to the victim’s assault.

The victim’s lawyers cite a Philadelphia grand jury report finding “credible allegations” against 300 “predator priests.” The grand jury report said over 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the church’s records.

“We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands,” reads the grand jury report, which was released in 2018.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all,” the report states. “For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected.”

If you suspect child abuse, call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in over 170 different languages.

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