$600,000 awarded to priest abuse victim

The Contra Costa Times/July 18, 2006
By Chris Metinko

Martinez, California. -- A Contra Costa County jury on Tuesday awarded $600,000 to a Martinez man sexually abused by a priest while he was a student at Salesian High School in Richmond, Calif.

The jury, by a 9-to-3 margin, found in favor of Joey Piscitelli, a former altar boy who was abused by the Rev. Stephen Whelan, a vice principal, when he was a freshman and sophomore at the high school from 1969 to 1971.

"I've finally been vindicated," said Piscitelli, 50. "The church has denied and tried to disgrace me and my family for 35 years. They've devastated me and my family, and they've never apologized."

The jury found the Salesian order and Whelan equally responsible for the abuse. The judgment means the Salesian Society is responsible for paying $300,000. However, because Whelan was not named as a defendant, he is not responsible for the other half.

Piscitelli was seeking unspecified damages.

Stephen McFeely, counsel for the Salesian Society, said the society was not pleased with the verdict and is still deciding how to proceed.

"The Salesian Society is disappointed with the jury's verdict and will seriously consider an appeal," McFeely said in a statement. "The alleged perpetrator, a teacher and vice principal at Salesian High School and a priest of the Salesian Society, denies that he engaged in any such conduct toward the plaintiff. In his 37-year career, he has never been accused of abuse by anyone other than the plaintiff. It is difficult for us to understand how the jury came to the conclusion that it did."

Piscitelli, now a coordinator for the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in his lawsuit not only did the sexual abuse occur, but the school did nothing to stop it.

In one incident contained in court documents, Piscitelli said the priest masturbated in front of him. Afterward, Piscitelli said he saw a school therapist.

The next day, Piscitelli's mother, who worked at the school cafeteria, told him they were going to kick him out of school and fire her.

Piscitelli said he then went to the principal and promised to keep his criticisms to himself so she could keep her job.

This is the second trial in two months involving Salesian High School.

The Salesian order reached a $700,000 settlement with another man June 28 in Alameda County Superior Court during jury deliberations.

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