Willful Cover-up Led to Years of Shame and Self Blame for Abused Girl
Predator Removed from Ministry in 2003 After Lay Review Board Deemed Allegations Credible
Officials of Diocese of Wilmington Still Minimizing Criminal Acts by Priest as a “Fetish”
Wilmington, Del., – Thursday, June 25, 2009 ? Attorneys for a Delaware woman filed a complaint today in New Castle County Superior Court alleging the cover-up of the sexual abuse of a minor female student at St. Mark’s High School beginning in 1986 and 1987.
Defendants include St. Mark’s High School, the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and former Delaware priest Fr. Charles W. Wiggins.
At age 16, Doe reported the crimes to Ron Russo after suffering an extended period of sexual abuse perpetrated by Fr. Wiggins. Russo was then the principal of St. Mark’s, a diocesan high school located in Wilmington.
The complaint alleges that the diocese and St. Mark’s also knew about the report. None of the defendants reported the abuse to the authorities. The defendants also told Doe and her parents that Wiggins would not be put in a position working with children again.
The defendants quickly broke that promise and allowed Wiggins to work as a priest in parishes for numerous years where he had access to children. He was even elevated to pastor in 1997.
Jeff Anderson, a leading trial lawyer based in St. Paul, Minn., filed the suit along with co-counsel Tom Conaty of the Delaware law firm Conaty, Curran and Sisk.
“In Jane Doe’s case, the initial victimization came at the hands of sexually abusive cleric, Fr. Charles W. Wiggins. Even though she was able to speak up much sooner than most clergy abuse victims, Doe’s voice was smothered by principal Ron Russo and the defendants,” Anderson said. Anderson emphasized that, “the ensuing cover-up was a deliberate effort to contain scandal and ensure Doe’s continued silence.”
According to Conaty, “Mr. Russo’s failure to report was illegal in 1986-1987, but what’s far worse is that this willful omission virtually guaranteed that our client could not seek justice in a criminal court.” “We believe Mr. Russo enforced the cover-up of these crimes against a child with the participation and endorsement of the leadership of the diocese,” he said.
Attorney Jim Curran of Conaty, Curran and Sisk believes there may be additional victims who are suffering in silence due to the willful and wanton cover-up of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church. “Victims of sexual abuse have many obstacles silencing them, threats, shame, misplaced blame. We want to encourage survivors speak up before it’s too late.”
“Before the Child Victim’s Act established a civil window period, most victims of sexual abuse in Delaware likely felt they had little recourse other than to accept the inequitable terms of settlement agreements with institutions such as the St. Mark’s and the Diocese of Wilmington, Anderson said. “Thankfully, survivors currently have a chance to expose predators and enabling institutions and to seek justice and accountability.”
The civil window period ends on July 10, 2009. The final day to file cases is July 9, 2009.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Michael Finnegan, of Jeff Anderson and Associates, P.A., are both pending Delaware admission pro hac vice.