When is a priest not a priest? When he’s molesting a child, diocese says in defense of lawsuit
c. 2014 The Star-Ledger
(RNS) Chris Naples says something snapped inside him that January day.
The New Jersey resident sat in the gallery of the Delaware Supreme Court earlier this year watching as a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton N.J., told the justices that the Rev. Terence McAlinden was not “on duty” — or serving in his capacity as a priest — when he allegedly molested Naples on trips to Delaware in the 1980s.
McAlinden, who once headed the diocese’s youth group, had introduced himself to Naples at a church-sponsored leadership retreat in Keyport, N.J.
Yet McAlinden wasn’t officially a priest when he took a teenage Naples on trips to Delaware, the lawyer argued.
“How do we determine when a priest is and is not on duty?” one of the justices asked, according to a video of the session on the court’s website.
“Well,” replied the diocese lawyer, “you can determine a priest is not on duty when he is molesting a child, for example. … A priest abusing a child is absolutely contrary to the pursuit of his master’s business, to the work of a diocese.”
The statement — one prong of the diocese’s argument that it should not be held responsible for McAlinden’s alleged assaults — left Naples reeling.
“Any hope I had that the church was concerned about me as a victim or about the conduct of its priests was totally gone,” Naples, now 42, said in a recent interview. “They were washing their hands of it. I was shattered. I just couldn’t believe that was one of their arguments.”
Saying church officials must be held accountable, Naples has now filed suit against the diocese in Superior Court in Mercer County, N.J.
The lawsuit comes after the Delaware courts ruled Naples didn’t have jurisdiction to sue the diocese in that state because he couldn’t prove the trips were church-sanctioned. Naples did win a $3 million judgment against McAlinden individually, though he has yet to see a penny.
He expects he never will, saying the priest has few assets.
“This has never been about the money,” Naples said. “It’s about exposing him for the monster that he is, and it’s about transparency in the diocese.”
Also named as a defendant is St. Theresa’s Parish in Little Egg Harbor, N.J., where McAlinden was named pastor in 1988. For two decades leading up to the appointment, he served as director of the Catholic Youth Organization.
Naples first came forward to the diocese in 2007, alleging McAlinden sexually abused him for more than a decade, beginning when he was 13. The diocese investigated the claims, found them to be credible and suspended McAlinden from ministry, effectively ending his career as a priest.
Since then, two other men have made similar claims. Both reached undisclosed settlements from the diocese.
McAlinden, now 73, declined to comment. He said he did not have an attorney.
During a 2012 deposition in the Delaware court case, he acknowledged having an intense sexual relationship with Naples but said it began only after Naples turned 18.
He also admitted sleeping nude with “a number of” teen boys who were active in the diocese’s youth group. Other times, McAlinden said, teen boys bathed nude with him in a hot tub at his parents’ home.
In the deposition, he called nudity in the hot tub “standard practice.” McAlinden said he had no sexual contact with the children.
Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the diocese, would not discuss the lawsuit or address McAlinden’s status.
Naples said the diocese told him in 2007 that McAlinden would be removed from the priesthood altogether, or laicized. Yet five years later, at the time of the deposition, McAlinden said he remained a priest, albeit a retired one, and drew a pension from the diocese. He augmented that pay by working as a real estate agent, he said.
Naples says his abuse continued into his mid-20s. Asked why he didn’t stop or report it, he said he couldn’t, that McAlinden had emotional and intellectual control over him.
It was McAlinden who introduced Naples to his wife, Patty, now a teacher. McAlinden presided over their marriage and baptized their two children. He is godfather to one of the kids.
Naples said he didn’t realize how badly the relationship with McAlinden affected him, even after it stopped being sexual in 1997.
Naples also confronted his alleged abuser during a phone call he taped. McAlinden made no apologies for the sexual contact during the conversation.
“At no time did I feel like I was using you or taking advantage of you,” McAlinden says on the tape.
Today, as he prepares for another lengthy legal showdown, Naples says he isn’t motivated by anger. He calls himself the “church’s best victim” because he has refrained from public attacks on the diocese.
But he said he wants an acknowledgment that the diocese could have done more. He said he also hopes his suit sends a message to other alleged victims.
“If it helps others who may be choosing something bad,” he said, referring to his own thoughts of suicide, “then they know they’re not alone.”
(Mark Mueller writes for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)