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Lawsuit claims Aurora priest DeRea molested boy

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

A Maryland man has come forward with allegations that the Rev. Philip DeRea, an Aurora priest and chaplain for the Indy 500, sexually abused him over the course of eight years.

The man, now in his early 40s, filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago that details the alleged abuse. It also claims the priest acknowledged the molestation in emails last year and tried to give the man money in exchange for his silence.

The man is seeking $75,000 in damages from DeRea, an Aurora resident, as well as his religious order, the Aurora-based Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. The suit claims the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart “knew or reasonably should have known that DeRea was likely to sexually molest Plaintiff but turned a blind eye to the abuse.”

On Friday, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart released a statement through its law firm, Kopon Airdo:

“We were saddened to learn that a lawsuit was filed against us stemming from alleged sexual abuse that occurred in the Washington, D.C., area in the 1980s by one of our Members, Father Philip DeRea. These allegations are contrary to our mission and all to which we profess. Our prayers go out to all involved in this legal matter, and to all victims of sexual abuse.”

According to the claims, DeRea initiated a friendship with the boy, who lived a few blocks from the priest’s home, when the child was 11 years old. The abuse started a few months later.

The abuse occurred mainly in the priest’s home, but also on a racing trip to Ohio, the suit states.

Staff, including nuns, were in DeRea’s home during the abuse and witnessed the priest taking the boy to his bedroom, but never questioned the behavior, the suit says.

The child “regarded DeRea as larger than life, almost like a saint, and DeRea’s attention made him feel special and loved,” the suit states.

Since 2006, when an incident in his life triggered memories of the abuse, the man has become depressed, gotten divorced, was fired from his job at a Catholic organization — allegedly for disclosing the abuse to his boss — and has been diagnosed with depression and other disorders.

In June 2010, the man sent DeRea an email confronting him about the abuse. DeRea allegedly responded, “I have waited all these years with a heavy heart and great regret, to hear from you. … I did you and your family a great injustice.”

The priest went on to wire the plaintiff money, a few thousand dollars at a time, and urged him to “keep all quiet,” the suit says. In September 2010, the priest hired a lawyer who offered the plaintiff $35,000 to execute a release of all claims, the suit says.

According to attorney Michael Airdo, when the Missionaries learned of the allegations, DeRea was immediately removed from public ministry.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart statement pointed out that it was one of the first religious communities to meet all the standards for prevention of child abuse in the Policy for Maintaining Ethical Ministry with Minors.

In 2003, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart agreed to pay two California brothers $2.1 million to settle their claims that a priest from the order sexually molested them thousands of times in the 1980s, when they were children.

The priest, Edward Ball, was extradited from Aurora to California to stand trial on criminal charges relating to the abuse for which the two men won the settlement. He was sentenced to three years in a prison for molesting the two brothers.

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