Man files suit against church alleging abuse by priest

The Associated Press/January 8, 2004

A man who alleges he was abused by a priest as a child filed suit Thursday against the now retired priest, a Catholic school, the Wilmington archdiocese, bishop and church officials.

Attorney Thomas Neuberger said church officials covered up the abuse and assured the parents of Eric Eden that the priest, Father Jim O'Neill, would be sequestered in a monastery and not allowed to be near children. The attorney said Eden learned two years ago that O'Neill was serving in a Greensboro, N.C., parish and contacted the Delaware attorney General's office.

Delaware prosecutors did not file charges against the priest, but did contact officials in North Carolina, the attorney said.

In April, church officials in North Carolina said O'Neill, the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Greensboro, N.C., for 11 years, had been relieved of his duties under a policy governing ministry-related sexual misconduct. O'Neill was removed from the post in response to an allegation of "inappropriate behavior" in another state, North Carolina church officials said at the time.

Neuberger said Eden was molested over a nine-year period beginning when Eden was 8 years old.

O'Neill had been a teacher and administrator for 22 years in Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania before coming to Greensboro in 1991, North Carolina church officials said in April.

A spokesman for the diocese of Wilmington said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. A spokesman for O'Neill's religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, did not immediately return a telephone call Thursday by The Associated Press seeking comment on the suit.

The attorney said Eden is suing church officials for breach of contract, claiming they reneged on their promise to keep the priest away from other children. Neuberger said O'Neill is now believed to be living in a retirement center for priests in Maryland.

In a prepared statement, Eden said he was filing suit "because I want to ensure that no other child ... has to go through what I went through."

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