Two days after a Philadelphia judge sentenced a monsignor in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to jail for enabling a pedophile priest, a Delaware County man filed a civil suit Wednesday against the archdiocese and Malvern Preparatory School for allegedly not protecting him from a sexually abusive cleric who taught there.
Also named in the lawsuit, filed by Chester County attorney Daniel F. Monahan in Philadelphia, were the religious Order of St. Augustine and John R. Liggio, the Augustinian priest who allegedly assaulted the plaintiff in 1997 and 1998 when he was a student at the 170-year-old private Catholic boys' school for grades 6 through 12 in Chester County.
"He did so by using physical, intellectual, moral, emotional and psychological force. The abuse began as compelled touching in Malvern Prep bathrooms where Liggio followed the plaintiff and isolated him. It progressed to sexual contact at Liggio's residence on campus," the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff is identified only as "an adult male individual less than 30 years of age and a citizen and resident of Delaware County in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" because he was a minor when he was an alleged victim of sex crimes.
According to the lawsuit that seeks in excess of $50,000, the alleged abuse has caused the Delaware County man great pain of mind and body, has affected his earning capacity and has caused him to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment.
The lawsuit states that in December 2002, the plaintiff told the Malvern Prep headmaster that Liggio had sexually abused him, but the headmaster said he did not believe the plaintiff and would not confront Liggio with the allegations "because he did not want to ruin his holiday."
However, Malvern Prep President the Rev. James R. Flynn said on Thursday that Liggio was immediately removed from all contact with students when school officials became aware of the abuse allegations in December 2002. The Chester County District Attorney's office investigated the complaint against Liggio, but the case was closed in August 2003 because of insufficient evidence.
The lawsuit maintains Malvern Prep officials did not disclose the complaint about Liggio to law enforcement authorities until another Augustinian priest who formerly taught there, the Rev. Richard J. Cochrane, was prosecuted for assaulting a Malvern student at a home in the Poconos. Cochrane pleaded no contest to statutory rape in Monroe County and was sentenced in July 2003 to 18 to 48 months in jail.
"Our first priority is the welfare and safety of our students, and that includes our alumni, that they have a safe and secure learning environment," said the prep school president, adding that Malvern officials are reviewing the lawsuit.
Flynn said Liggio, who had taught religion and was campus ministry director at Malvern Prep, was out of active ministry. Teddie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova, would not confirm whether Liggio was still a member of the religious order. She said Augustinian officials are reviewing the lawsuit.
A message seeking comment left on the voice mail of a telephone listed at the Hudson, Fla., address where the lawsuit indicates Liggio resides was not returned by early Thursday evening.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said Thursday that the lawsuit's statement that Malvern Prep was founded by Augustinians but is now operated and controlled by the archdiocese is incorrect.
"It is important to point out that Malvern Prep is not an archdiocesan school. The archdiocese does not operate it or oversee it," Farrell said.
Along with sexual abuse and negligence, the lawsuit accuses the archdiocese, Malvern Prep and the Augustinians with civil conspiracy to endanger children.
The suit refers to the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn, secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, found guilty June 22 of felony child endangerment in connection with former Haverford resident and defrocked priest Edward Avery, who pleaded guilty March 26 to sexually abusing an altar boy in 1999.
On Monday Lynn, the first U.S. church official convicted of child endangerment, was sentenced to three to six years in prison.
"During the trial, which culminated in the guilty verdict, substantial evidence was introduced that the archdiocese has had and maintains a policy and practice of concealing sexual abuse and protecting priests who engage in abusive behaviors while simultaneously representing to victims and the public that there was no basis for claims to be made against the archdiocese," the lawsuit states.