Clergy abuse in Delaware: DeLuca 'charmer,' victim says

Vai bristles as St. Elizabeth's attorney questions 'piecemeal' recall

The News Journal, Delaware/November 13, 2010

Dover - An emotional and sometimes angry John M. Vai took the witness stand Friday to recall for a jury how a man he believed was a friend, the man who was his priest and the representative of God on Earth, repeatedly sexually abused him more than 40 years ago.

"What Frank did, the stuff ... he's sick," said Vai, who is now suing St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Parish and defrocked priest Francis DeLuca.

Unlike his earlier, brief testimony in a Diocese of Wilmington bankruptcy proceeding, Vai did not talk in detail about the sexual abuse itself. Instead, he reminded the jury that they heard DeLuca admit in a video to molesting him, so he felt there was no need to go into the "vile" details.

Vai said as an eighth-grader in 1966 he was awed that a priest wanted to be his buddy. And DeLuca, he said, was "a charmer ... a nice guy" who lavished expensive gifts on him, took him to dinner at the Hotel du Pont and on trips to the beach and New York City. Now, Vai said, he realizes it was all part of a grooming process by a child predator.

"I'm 58 years old now ... I was abused as a child," he said, adding that it did not matter if it was 10 times, 100 times or 1,000 times that he was abused - an apparent reference to opening statements by defense attorneys - it was wrong.

Vai compared DeLuca to Satan and said DeLuca sexually abused him on those trips and at the St.

Elizabeth's rectory, starting when he was about 14 and continuing until he was 16 or 17.

Vai, meanwhile, expressed outrage that nothing was done at the time. "I can't believe no one saw anything. It just doesn't make sense to me," he said, adding that he filed the suit so the truth would be brought out.

Vai also testified that he repressed the memories of abuse until he read about a lawsuit filed by Robert Quill in 2007 charging that DeLuca molested him. Quill was younger than Vai but lived in his neighborhood and walked to school with him.

Vai said the story caused him to explode with emotions, the memories came flooding back and he was filled with guilt and shame that he had not spoken up in 1966 and spared Quill from the abuse. "I failed Bobby Quill in not saying something," he said.

Vai confessed to being in such a rage that he was homicidal and suicidal - wanting to do serious harm to someone, anyone.

Vai, like Quill, later filed a lawsuit under the Delaware Child Victims Act, which briefly suspended the statute of limitations for those who were molested as children to allow civil claims.

Under cross-examination, St. Elizabeth's attorney Colleen Shields tried to press Vai for specifics and highlight inconsistencies in his past statements about the abuse, noting that DeLuca admitted to only one incident in the rectory while Vai alleges there were many.

Vai bristled and repeatedly explained that after repressing those memories for 40 years, they are often not clear and can surface inconsistently. "It is piecemeal. ... I didn't keep a diary. DeLuca did. I wish I had that clarity, but I don't," he said.

Shields then suggested that Vai's drug use in college, particularly LSD, may have scrambled his memories or caused him to exaggerate and questioned how he could clearly recall Cini but not other details. Vai said he knows he was abused and has been consistent on that point.

Vai became particularly upset when Shields suggested that St. Elizabeth's, too, was a victim of DeLuca, and noted that DeLuca even fooled Vai's own mother, who continues to have doubts that DeLuca did what Vai charges.

He described the steps to the second floor of the priest's home at St. Elizabeth's, leading to DeLuca's bedroom, as "the stairs to hell ... I thought hell was down but hell was up."

Vai also said there were other priests in the rectory when he visited and he clearly recalls seeing one, now-Monsignor Thomas Cini, as he ascended the stairs on one occasion.

"I walked by him. I said 'Good evening, Father,' " Vai recalled, "I'm in the rectory, he sees me. He doesn't see me go into Frank's room, but what the hell am I doing there?"

Cini, in earlier testimony, denied ever seeing Vai or any other boys in the rectory and said if he had, he would have taken some kind of action.

Vai shot back that his mother never had DeLuca's résumé to consult and that his mother did not employ DeLuca.

When Shields pointed out it was the diocese - not the parish - that was responsible for moving a pedophile priest into St. Elizabeth's, Vai said he did not care about legal differences between the parish and the diocese, which is not a part of the lawsuit.

"I thought it was all just one big ball," he said, until this lawsuit. "I was abused by a priest at St. Elizabeth's. He was paid by St. Elizabeth's. He was supervised by St. Elizabeth's. He taught at St. Elizabeth's."

When Shields pressed Vai on why he consulted an attorney, if he was suicidal, rather than just a mental health professional, Vai snapped that his lawsuit was not about the money. "What I want is my childhood back. I lost three years of it. A St. Elizabeth's employee stole it from me. If you can give me that back ... and make it so my brain will forget, we'll call it even," he said.

Testimony before Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. continues Monday.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.