A $100 million lawsuit brought by a woman who was sexually abused as a child by a Roman Catholic priest is scheduled for trial tomorrow. It provides a public view of the church's secretive handling of clergy misconduct.
Selection of a jury and trial of the case, set to begin before Judge Hilary D. Caplan in Baltimore Circuit Court, coincide with efforts by the Catholic archdiocese to deal with unrelated sexual abuse accusations against another priest, a popular Baltimore County pastor who committed suicide Aug. 21.
The lawsuit raises questions about the adequacy of church officials' response to evidence of sexual abuse by priests.
Richard G. Deakin, 38, a former Capuchin friar whose conviction on rape and child abuse charges in 1990 led to the suit, had a history of deviant sexual behavior, court documents say.
But Deakin's religious superiors allowed him to continue his ministry even though they were aware of his pattern of lewd behavior, the victim alleges.
Among the defendants named along with Deakin are the Baltimore Archdiocese and retired Archbishop William D. Borders.
A central question to be decided by the jury is whether church authorities took reasonable precautions to protect the girl from the criminal advances of the clergyman under their supervision.
Most of the abuse occurred between 1985 and 1987 while Deakin was assistant pastor of St. Martin's Church at Fulton Avenue and Fayette Street in West Baltimore.
The defense lawyers claim the girl was guilty of contributory negligence because she did not report to the priest's superiors or to the police what he was doing to her at that time.
Now 21, she was 13 when the three-year sexual relationship with the priest began. In 1990, more than two years after it ended, she told her mother, who called police.
Court documents say Deakin's child abuse began with fondling in 1985. After January 1986, he and the girl were having intercourse five times a week. The locations were the priest's bedroom in the friary, his office, the church basement, Sunday School rooms and the parish automobile.
A significant aspect of the case is that Judge Caplan, in a ruling April 20 last year, blocked efforts by archdiocesan attorneys to force the names of the sex-abuse victim and her mother into the public record.
Traditional pseudonyms, Jane and Mary Doe, are being used. That their true identities are known to all the defendants has never been in question.
In at least two earlier civil suits involving a local priest who abused boys in Anne Arundel County, the boys' families had settled out of court to protect their privacy because judges agreed with the archdiocese that trials could proceed only if the victims' actual names were used.
The current suit was filed Jan. 14, 1992. Since then, numerous pleadings and hundreds of pages of documents have been added. The suit alleges that the victim "suffers and will suffer in the future from emotional distress, anxiety, fear, physical anguish, and psychological and emotional trauma."
The court documents say she has received extensive inpatient treatment at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson.
In addition to the Baltimore Archdiocese, Deakin and Archbishop Borders, the defendants are the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Province of St. Augustine, to which Deakin belonged before being dismissed for getting married Dec. 13, 1989; Monsignor G. Michael Schleupner, formerly chancellor of the Baltimore Archdiocese; and four officials of the Capuchin order, which staffs St. Martin's parish. They are the Very Rev. Francis Fugini, the Rev. John Harvey, the Rev. Ward Stakem and the Rev. William J. Wiethorn.
The suit seeks for the victim $30 million in damages for each of three counts: negligent hiring and supervision, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On behalf of the victim's mother, the suit is asking for an additional $10 million in damages.
The decision of Archbishop Borders and the Capuchins to assign Deakin to St. Martin's, the suit alleges, "created an unreasonable risk of harm to its parishioners, especially female adolescents."
Giving Deakin supervision over youth groups, in particular, is described in the suit as "reckless" and "outrageous." It says the priest was long known to have been unable to live a celibate existence.
Criticized by superiors
Depositions relate that Deakin, who had been in training for the priesthood from the age of 13, was romantically involved with a girl in Annapolis before and after taking the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty.
Despite criticism by his superiors of his repeated use of church money to visit X-rated movie theaters and to obtain pornographic materials, he was ordained to the priesthood in April 1985.
He had been subjected to homosexual advances as a seminarian, according to evidence presented at his criminal trial three years ago. Before being given a 15-year suspended sentence for rape and child abuse under a plea bargain with Baltimore prosecutors, he told the court, "I'm ashamed of my actions, and I'm sorry." He was placed on probation for five years.
While church authorities contend they did not know of Deakin's sexual abuse of the girl while it was occurring at St. Martin's, court papers show that they did learn of his practice of yelling obscenities from the parish car and exposing himself to women on the street.
He was arrested after one such incident on Feb. 17, 1987, after a woman who had been accosted by him gave the license number of his car to police.
A summary of her deposition says she "did not press formal charges after she was contacted by somebody in authority in the church who assured [her] that Deakin would get help."
A copy of a Feb. 25, 1987, letter in the court file from Archbishop Borders to one of Deakin's superiors in the Capuchin order reads: "Father was accused of disorderly conduct and soliciting a lewd act. He was informed that formal charges could be placed against him. Fortunately, however, as of this date he has not been charged and, hopefully, will not be charged."
Depositions from four of the defendants -- Archbishop Borders and Fathers Fugini, Schleupner and Stakem -- indicate they knew of Father Deakin's deviant behavior.
The court records also contain depositions from Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard; the Rev. Denis J. Madden, a clinical psychologist who determined that "Deakin's psychological protocol suggested the life pattern of an adolescent as opposed to an adult," and Monsignor W. Francis Malooly, the present chancellor of the archdiocese.
After Deakin admitted that his conduct toward the woman on the street was not an isolated incident, court documents say Father Madden recommended in February 1987 that the priest "be moved out of Baltimore relatively quickly" and added that "the courts were becoming dissatisfied with clergy in those kinds of situations."
However, Deakin was kept in his position at St. Martin's until June, when he was transferred to St. Cecilia's parish in Rochester, Pa., which is in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Court documents say the reassignment "was made to appear that it was at Deakin's request and as part of normal rotation of personnel."
The Capuchin's Father Fugini was required to nominate Deakin as a fit candidate for priestly service in his new parish and to recommend his approval by the Bishop of Pittsburgh. But depositions say that neither the Pittsburgh bishop nor any member of his staff was told about Deakin's Feb. 17 arrest or that he had been sent to Father Madden for psychological counseling.
While Deakin was at St. Cecilia's, his superiors complained about the cost of numerous long-distance telephone calls he made to Baltimore. If they had checked, the plaintiffs contend, the church officials would have learned that he was calling the victim of his sexual abuse. Court records say he returned to Baltimore repeatedly to have sex with her.
In the summer of 1988, Deakin became involved with a St. Cecilia parishioner, whom he later married. When he was dismissed from the priesthood in 1989, he was told that he was "totally responsible for any and all debts, loans, contracts, liens and legal suits incurred."
'Love of her life'
Defense pleadings, as part of the argument that the victim was guilty of contributory negligence, refer to her "affair" with Deakin and describe it as "the love of her life."
In response, the plaintiffs' attorneys told the court, "But Richard Deakin and Jane Doe were neither Romeo and Juliet nor Abelard and Heloise. Rather, she was an extremely vulnerable child who between the ages of 13 and 15 was victimized by a Capuchin friar in his 30s."
Defense attorneys also argued that if the court concerns itself with the alleged negligent supervision of Father Deakin, such "investigation and evaluation of religious ideologies" will be in violation of the First Amendment.
The plaintiffs countered that "the instant lawsuit does not question or challenge any religious belief." The central argument of the suit, they told the court, is that the church authorities "negligently selected a priest who was ill-suited to function as associate pastor, then failed to properly supervise him."
Jury selection and the trial before Judge Caplan -- assuming there is no postponement and no last-minute agreement on an out-of-court settlement -- could take several weeks.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are Robert L. Hanley Jr., Stephen M. Schenning and Christine K. McSherry of the Towson firm of Nolan, Plumhoff & Williams.
Representing the archdiocese are Robert H. Bouse Jr. and Kimberly E. Rice of the Baltimore firm, Anderson, Coe & King. The Capuchins are represented by Donald L. DeVries and Amy B. Heinrich of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Gray, also of Baltimore. Deakin's attorneys are David B. Irwin and Brian C. Temple of the Baltimore firm of Irwin, Kerr, Green, McDonald & Dexter.