The Vatican has defrocked a Philadelphia priest with a long and sordid history of sexually molesting altar boys after plying them with alcohol and forcing them to sleep in his bed, archdiocese officials announced yesterday.
But the decision to cast David C. Sicoli out of the priesthood came three decades after archdiocese officials first received complaints about him and almost four years after they launched an investigation into allegations that he molested at least 11 boys.
Victims' groups expressed outrage yesterday - saying the Vatican's move was too little, too late and failed to heal the wounds of those he allegedly abused.
"He's been a priest for at least 30 years, and church officials were warned numerous times he was a molester," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. "This is a belated and begrudging move taken only after children have been abused unnecessarily."
When asked why it took so long to defrock Sicoli, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Farrell said though she can't speak for the Vatican, the "process can often take quite some time."
Sicoli's defrocking means he can no longer work as a priest anywhere and he will no longer receive financial support from the archdiocese. Until recently, Sicoli was receiving church money for food, clothing and shelter, Farrell said.
Farrell declined to divulge Sicoli's whereabouts, but said he has been living in a private residence - not affilated with the archdiocese - since July 2004, when he took a leave from Holy Spirit parish in South Philadelphia and stopped practicing as a priest.
According to real estate records, however, Sicoli owns a condo in Sea Isle City. The condo sits across the street from a popular playground called "Play-by-the-Bay," maps show.
Sicoli's exploits with boys were detailed in a 2005 grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Sicoli was one of 63 Philadelphia-area priests who sexually abused hundreds of children, the grand jury concluded.
But Sicoli was never convicted or charged with any crime because the statute of limitations expired years before the grand jury report came out. That means that Sicoli - who could not be reached for comment - does not have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.Clohessy of SNAP said he believes church officials have a moral obligation to watch over Sicoli and help protect other potential victims.
"Church officials helped foster and create him," Clohessy said. They can't simply cut him loose and say, 'We have no more obligation here.' "
Farrell said archdiocese officials have alerted church officials and law enforcement authorities in the area where Sicoli currently resides of his history and exact address. "We're not trying to hide anything - his photograph is on our Web site," Farrell said.
Farrell said Sicoli chose not to enter an archdiocese program, run out of Villa Saint Joseph in Darby Borough, that supervises and houses priests who have had allegations of sexual abuse substantiated against them. The program offers priests "a supervised life of prayer and penance." Twenty accused priests are currently in the program, Farrell said.
In 1987, the Daily News published a letter from Sicoli in which he scolded columnist Jill Porter for advocating the distribution of condoms to teenagers. "(Porter) advocates throwing in the moral towel and giving (teens) protection," Sicoli wrote. "Condom advertising gives them the psychological green light to be sexually active, no matter how Ms. Porter tries to deny it."
After becoming a priest in 1975, Sicoli worked in nine parishes in Philadelphia, Ambler, Yeadon, and Levittown. He also served as an associate director of the CCD (Conference of Christian Doctrine) youth program for the entire Philadelphia area.
Jay Abramowitch, an attorney who represented nine of Sicoli's victims in civil lawsuits, said the archdiocese was an "accomplice" to Sicoli's abuse.
"This guy was one of the worst abusers and they just continually covered his tracks," Abramowitch said yesterday. "If this guy weren't a priest, he'd be in jail for years. Now they finally defrock him and it really means nothing. This guy is walking around."
The civil suits brought by Sicoli's victims were dismissed after a judge concluded that the statute of limitations had run out, Abramowitch said.
According the 2005 grand jury report, Sicoli plied parish boys with alcohol and subjected them to mutual masturbation and oral sex. He paid for school tuition and trips to Disney World and Africa for "boys he took a particular liking to," the report states.
One man told the grand jury that he was drinking alcohol at Sicoli's house in Sea Isle City in 1980 when Phillies' playoff tickets went on sale. Sicoli had the alleged victim, then a 15-year-old boy from Immaculate Conception B.V.M. parish in Levittown, drive to Veterans Stadium to buy tickets and they masturbated each other along the way, according to the report.
In 2004, the archdiocese launched its own investigation into Sicoli. The Archdiocesan Review Board found "multiple substantiated allegations involving a total of 11 minors over an extensive period of time beginning in 1977 and proceeding to 2002." *