Archdiocese of Philadelphia Settles Clergy Abuse Suit for $3.5M

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia settles a lawsuit for $3.5 million with a man who was sexually assaulted by a priest as a child, part of a pattern of abuse allegations.


ByAnjelica Cappellino, J.D.


Published on January 26, 2024


Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed to pay out $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who was sexually assaulted when he was 14 years old by a priest. The allegations made by the plaintiff, referred to as “J.S.,” date back to 2006 when the then-minor child attended religious classes at his local parish. The settlement occurred shortly before the case was scheduled to commence trial, and marks one of the many lawsuits in the Archdiocese’s history.

The Lawsuit and Settlement

In 2006, the plaintiff, J.S., was 14 years old and attending religious classes at St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Wayne, Pennsylvania. The assaulter, Monsignor John Close, raped the plaintiff after hearing his confession, telling the plaintiff that the act was necessary for absolution and to “cleanse his sins.” J.S. was threatened to remain quiet about the rape, otherwise “the cleansing would not work and he would suffer eternal damnation.” J.S. obeyed the priest’s threats and kept silent about the rape for years. The plaintiff also served as an altar boy, a role he ceased the following year after Close cornered him before mass while changing clothes. J.S. eventually reported the incident in 2018, the same year that the priest died.

In 2020, J.S. filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, alleging claims of negligence, recklessness, and outrageous conduct for their failure to observe and supervise Close’s relationship with J.S., their failure to identify Close’s history of sexual abuse of children, and their failure to remove him from the ministry despite these allegations. Plaintiff asserted that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was aware for decades that Close posed a danger to children, after receiving information from another priest that Close, who was ordained in 1969, had teenage boys sleep overnight in his room in the 1970s. The complaint further noted that the archdiocese was made aware of two reports prior to J.S.’s and in both instances, the archdiocese failed to report the allegations to law enforcement or remove Close from the ministry. In 2004, they received information from an adult serving a prison sentence for murder that he had been sexually abused by Close from 1967 to 1969. In their answer to the complaint, the archdiocese claimed that the allegations were deemed unsubstantiated after an investigation was conducted by a former FBI agent and examined by the Archdiocesan Review Board. In 2011, another victim came forward, alleging that Close sexually assaulted him in the 1990s. Close was placed on administrative leave during an investigation into the claims, which the archbishop determined were unsubstantiated.

Close was placed in different parishes and schools until he was put on administrative leave with priestly faculties restricted, in 2011, a move that J.S.’s attorneys assert was done in response to a grand jury report that same year. The report examined the diocese’s internal practices of moving accused priests to different locations instead of reporting their crimes to law enforcement. As a result, church officials were prompted to reevaluate the previous allegations against Close. Although his administrative leave was publicly disclosed, the reason behind it was not publicized at the time. Close retired in 2012.

As the plaintiff’s pre-trial memorandum states, “Despite multiple reports, the archdiocese allowed Close to remain in ministry with access and authority over children…The archdiocese concealed the allegations from families in the parishes where Close was assigned, exposing J.S. and other children to the risk of being abused. Father Close's abuse and the Archdiocese's facilitation of it were part of a larger pattern." Per J.S.’s lawsuit, he had suffered severe psychological repercussions, including issues with substance abuse, and loss of educational, economic and personal opportunities throughout his life.

In their answer to the lawsuit, the archdiocese denied any wrongdoing and stated that they were “not on notice of any substantiated claims of sexual abuse against Close before the time of the alleged abuse.” In pre-trial court papers, the archdiocese alleged J.S. suffered from bipolar disorder which led to inconsistent accounts of the abuse. Per the memorandum, "[t]his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, of which Plaintiff has a notable family history, accounts for his varying accounts of this alleged abuse when speaking with different medical providers…It also explains his reports to providers that he was sexually abused by his mother, physically and emotionally abused by his father, and that his sister was a victim of sexual abuse, and several other statements to medical providers, all of which he now denies.”

The archdiocese denied knowing about the allegations prior to Close’s death, and eventually reported it to law enforcement after they were put on notice from the attorneys. Prior to going forward to trial, the archdiocese agreed to pay J.S. $3.5 million to settle the claims. Kenneth A. Gravin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, released a statement expressing that: “We deeply regret the pain suffered by any survivor of child sexual abuse and have a sincere desire to help victims on their path to healing.”

Plaintiff’s attorney, David Inscho of Kline & Specter PC, released a statement asserting that the settlement "holds the archdiocese accountable for failing to protect our client and other children,” and that "[t]hrough litigation we were able to expose that the archdiocese protected Father Close despite multiple reports of inappropriate behavior with children."

The Future of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

The present settlement is by far the only instance of abuse by the archdiocese. In 2018, a grand jury found that over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested over 1,000 children since the 1940s and that senior church officials systematically worked to conceal the abuse. Many of the accused priests have since retired or passed away, with some being dismissed or placed on administrative leave. In almost all of the cases, the statute of limitations for any criminal charges had run out. Likewise, civil lawsuits are also difficult for the victims to file in light of the passing statutes of limitations for the claims. Pennsylvania lawmakers have proposed an additional two-year window for these victims to file otherwise expired lawsuits, but the resolution is pending a partisan debate in the state legislature.

In the meantime, seven of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses have launched victim compensation funds in response to the grand jury report. As of 2022, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has paid $78.5 million to 428 claimants. The victims have a limited time to claim compensation. Mike McDonnell, the interim executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests urges the archdiocese to locate and assist any potential victims of Close and others: “By taking these steps, we can help create a safer environment for children, aid in the recovery of survivors, ensure the prosecution of criminals, deter cover-ups, and ultimately uncover the truth.”

About the author

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, Esq., a New York Law School alumna and psychology graduate from St. John’s University, is an accomplished attorney at Meringolo & Associates, P.C. She specializes in federal criminal defense and civil litigation, with significant experience in high-profile cases across New York’s Southern and Eastern Districts. Her notable work includes involvement in complex cases such as United States v. Joseph Merlino, related to racketeering, and U.S. v. Jimmy Cournoyer, concerning drug trafficking and criminal enterprise.

Ms. Cappellino has effectively represented clients in sentencing preparations, often achieving reduced sentences. She has also actively participated in federal civil litigation, showcasing her diverse legal skill set. Her co-authored article in the Albany Law Review on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines underscores her deep understanding of federal sentencing and its legal nuances. Cappellino's expertise in both trial and litigation marks her as a proficient attorney in federal criminal and civil law.

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