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Philly priest sexually abused a teen at Cardinal Dougherty High and on a Shore trip decades ago, lawsuit says

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been sued by a man who claims he was sexually abused by a priest in 1981.

The Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

A Philadelphia priest who was on the faculty at Cardinal Dougherty High School in the 1980s sexually abused a teen there and also took the boy on a trip to Margate, where he served him alcohol and assaulted him, according to a lawsuit filed in Atlantic County Superior Court.

The Rev. Peter Foley sexually assaulted the boy, then 16, on a trip to the Shore in 1981 and also at the school, where they worked together on student council, the suit says.

Foley, 83, reached by phone Wednesday at the church-run retirement facility in Upper Darby where he lives, said he had never abused the teen — or anyone else — although he acknowledged he had given him alcohol.

“The allegations are false,” he said. “I did give the kid alcohol, but that’s as far as it went. He was 17 or 18.”

Asked why he would serve alcohol to a minor, Foley said: “We were at the Shore.”

Foley, who was ordained in 1967, said he had long been “inactive” as a priest and referred further questions to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Ken Gavin, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said Foley was retired and had not served in active ministry for several years. He declined to comment on the lawsuit but said that when archdiocesan officials recently learned of the allegations against Foley, they referred the matter to law enforcement officials, who declined to press charges.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month against the archdiocese, said that priests had abused children at church-owned Shore properties and elsewhere for decades and that such conduct was “well known” to the archdiocese. It cited a 2005 grand jury report that accused the archdiocese of allowing hundreds of sexual assaults against children to go unpunished and shielding the perpetrators by moving them from parish to parish. Such sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the suit said, was “widespread ... around the world.”

The plaintiff in the case, a Pennsylvania man who is now 57, is identified in the lawsuit only by his initials. The suit says the abuse he suffered was “a preventable hazard” that the archdiocese had failed to address.

Lawyers for the man said they filed the suit in New Jersey because Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for civil actions in connection with the priest’s conduct had expired.

In June of this year, the suit says, the archdiocese acknowledged the priest’s “misconduct” after an investigation and imposed restrictions on his clerical work. But it faulted the church for waiting so long to act.

In his long tenure in the archdiocese, Foley served as pastor of St. Alphonsus in Maple Glen, St. Justin Martyr in Narberth, and Blessed Virgin Mary in Darby. He was assistant pastor at St Francis of Assisi in Norristown, St. Philip Neri in Lafayette Hill, and St. Martin of Tours in New Hope. He also served as resident priest at St. Jude in Chalfont, was parochial vicar at St. Katherine of Siena in Wayne and St. Christopher in Philadelphia, and he spent more than a decade as a chaplain at LaSalle College High school, where he served from 1976 to 1987.

The suit, filed by the Harrisburg law firm Andreozzi & Foote, accuses the archdiocese of negligence, recklessness, and malice in its hiring and supervision of Foley and for retaining him after learning of his alleged wrongdoing.

Foley’s actions caused the victim years of suffering and emotional distress, according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Nathaniel L. Foote, dismissed the priest’s denial of the assault. He said the abuse took place at a beach house shortly after the school year ended, that the victim had a vivid recollection of the assault — and that its toll had lingered.

“He’s struggled with this for many, many years before he felt he was in a place to talk about it,” Foote said. “But now he really wants recognition from the archdiocese and Father Foley that this happened.”