This week, one of the largest damages awards in a clergy sexual abuse case occurred in a lawsuit against a now defrocked priest. Francis DeLuca was defrocked in 2008 after being convicted of molesting his 18-year-old grandnephew in New York.
In a separate civil suit, a man accused DeLuca of repeatedly abusing him as a boy in the 1960s when DeLuca was a teacher in St. Elizabeth's parish in Wilmington, Delaware. In November, a judge ruled that DeLuca was legally responsible for the abuse, but left the issue of damages to a jury to decide. The jury awarded the plaintiff $30 million in damages.
This outcome is highly significant in two ways. Firstly, this is one of the largest verdicts in a clergy abuse case in U.S. history. The plaintiff's attorney in this case does not believe that any damages can be collected from DeLuca, but the local parish has assets to pay for the jury award
Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, this was the first known case that found a local parish to be liable for abuse committed by a priest. In most clergy abuse cases, the plaintiff sues the abuser and the diocese. However, the Wilmington diocese is facing more than 100 sexual abuse lawsuits and it filed for bankruptcy protection last year. Bankruptcy protection would make suing the diocese directly very difficult. Therefore, the plaintiff in this litigation sued the priest and the local parish directly.
This case may help set the precedent in other U.S. states that not just the priest and the bishop who appointed him can be liable. Local parishes and pastors may now be held liable when they supervise a priest who abuses children.
Source: National Public Radio: Jury Grants Big $30M Award In Del. Priest Abuse; 12/1/2010