Archdiocese to Fight Sex-Abuse Case in Federal Court

By Jim Smith
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia PA]
Downloaded May 7, 2003

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia apparently would prefer to fight its only current priest-abuse case in federal court rather than in state court, where jury verdicts in general tend to be substantially higher.

Louis Aquilino, a Turnersville, N.J., man who claims to have been abused by a priest at a South Philadelphia parish 20 years ago, when he was a teenager, sued the archdiocese in April in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

Late Monday, lawyers for the archdiocese transferred the case to federal court, asserting that federal court was the proper venue since the opposing parties are from different states.

C. Clark Hodgson Jr., the archdiocese's lawyer, yesterday refused to comment on the move or the strategy behind it.

Aquilino's lawyer, George M. Vinci Jr., said he needed some time to study the move before he could comment.

Aquilino claims that Father Michael D'Onofrio abused him in 1982 and 1983 when Aquilino was a teenager and a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, Morris Street near 17th.

His suit alleges that he repressed memory of the abuse until last year, when he began to recall "numerous instances of sexual abuse" after watching the movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

He claims the priest took him to see that movie when he was a boy.

Aquilino's suit contends that the priest fondled the boy's penis and performed oral sex on him inside the priest's rectory bedroom and in church basement.

"This is the way to heaven," the priest allegedly told the boy.

The priest allegedly swore the boy to secrecy "by invoking God's name and...claiming that it was 'God's secret,' that 'God knows' and that 'if you want to go to heaven, do not tell anyone.' "

The suit also alleges that the priest "attempted to have sex" with the boy at the priest's parents' home in Plymouth Meeting, but the boy refused.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi said that after Aquilino's suit was filed, D'Onofrio, who has been in Peru since the early 1990s, doing missionary work, was suspended from his priestly duties. He remains a Philadelphia archdiocesan priest, Rossi said.


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