WILMINGTON - A sex-abuse lawsuit that prompted the suspension of a Glenside priest this year has been withdrawn amid questions over his accuser's credibility.
The civil case against Msgr. Michael Flood, 71, fell apart during a deposition last week of the South Jersey man, 48, who sued the priest and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia three years ago.
The man - identified in court filings as "John Broe #1" - had alleged that he had been abused dozens of times in the 1970s while a ninth grader at what was then Bishop John Neumann Catholic High School in South Philadelphia, where Flood was a religion teacher.
The accuser decided to withdraw his abuse claims after Flood's attorneys exposed several contradictions in his story, including inconsistent statements about his work history and past drug use, and fraudulent filings for federal disability benefits.
In addition, while hospitalized in New Jersey after filing his suit, the man said he had never been sexually abused, according to lawyer James S. Green Sr., who represents Flood.
An attorney for the plaintiff cautioned Monday against reading too much into his decision to drop the case.
"My client stands by his claims he was abused," said lawyer Thomas C. Crumplar. "The archdiocese is conducting its own investigation, and my client would be happy to participate."
Neither Flood nor his accuser responded to requests for an interview. Archdiocesan officials also declined to comment.
Some of Flood's former parishioners said Monday that the development should bring about Flood's quick return to the ministry, and they suggested that the archdiocese may have acted too quickly when it suspended him, following a scathing grand jury report on its handling of sexual abuse cases.
"It's a shame that such a good and dedicated man who devoted his life to the service of others had to have his good name questioned in the twilight of his career," said Andrew Harbison, a member of Flood's former congregation at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Glenside. "He's obviously completely innocent."
Flood was among 27 priests suspended in March after a Philadelphia grand jury concluded that dozens of clergy members in active ministry had unresolved abuse claims against them.
The panel charged two priests, a defrocked priest, and a former schoolteacher with sexually abusing young boys in the 1990s. Msgr. William J. Lynn - head of the archdiocesan office of the clergy - was also arrested for allegedly covering up abuse claims.
But the allegations against dozens of others could not be tried in court, the grand jury lamented, because they fell outside the statute of limitations. Then-Cardinal Justin Rigali removed nearly all from their parishes until an independent panel could review their cases. Its findings are expected early next year.
Flood's case stood out from the beginning. Among his suspended colleagues, the monsignor alone had been sued in open court at the time he was removed from his parish.
So while church officials refused to discuss the allegations against any of the suspended priests, St. Luke's parishioners had long known about the lawsuit and had vowed to stand by Flood.
His accuser alleged in his lawsuit that the priest had told him that God wanted them "to express their love for each other" before taking him to a park in Wilmington and sexually assaulting him. Afterward, the accuser said, Flood warned the teen not to tell anyone because "others wouldn't understand" and would assume the youth was gay.
The man filed his suit in 2009 under a two-year window in which Delaware legislators lifted the state's civil statute of limitations on sex-abuse claims.
Flood responded to the suit's filing swiftly, notifying his parishioners in Glenside and denying the allegations. Before his suspension this year, Flood had asked parishioners to pray for his accuser and voluntarily agreed to refrain from unsupervised contact with children until the case could be resolved.
That happened last week during the deposition.
The accuser's "credibility was completely shot," Green said.
Crumplar, the plaintiff's attorney, did not dispute the blemishes in his client's past. But he maintained that those inconsistent statements came as a result of the physical and mental toll of his abuse.
"He just decided he couldn't go through with it," he said. "He just didn't have the strength anymore."
Though Crumplar said his client was eager to help the archdiocesan panel investigating Flood for possible restoration to the ministry, he conceded that the man has not made any attempt to reach church officials.
As for Flood, the civil suit's dismissal should pave the way to a quick exoneration and return to his Glenside parish, said Green.
"Hopefully, the archdiocese will see a grave injustice has been done," he said. "There's nothing he wants more than to get back to ministering to his flock."
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