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3 Bucks Men Sue Priest, Allege Abuse

Jul 23, 2004 | Bucks County Courier Times

Three Bucks County men filed separate lawsuits alleging they were sexually abused by a former assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception BVM Church in Bristol Township.

Filed in Philadelphia Thursday, the lawsuits seek not only damages from the accused priest, the Rev. David Sicoli, but also from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali and/or Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

Attorneys for the men on Wednesday filed lawsuits in Lehigh and Schuylkill counties on behalf of a woman and two men who alleged sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Allentown.

In the Bucks County cases, Matthew Woodruff, 39, of Middletown and two unnamed Levittown men, both 38, each claim that Sicoli supplied alcohol and molested them several times during sleepovers at his beach house in Sea Isle City, N.J. The priest also allegedly took them to a bar in Wildwood, where they were served alcohol. The reported abuse occurred between 1978 and 1983, while Sicoli served as an assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception. The men were 14 or 15 when the abuse started to occur, the lawsuits claim.

Reached at home Thursday, Woodruff said the archdiocese initiated the investigation of the sexual abuse. On June 23, an investigator for the church called him "out of the blue" to inquire about a complaint that a nun had made about Sicoli dating from the early 1980s. Apparently, the nun's complaint went nowhere until recently, he said.

"The archdiocese had our names on file," he said.

Woodruff said going public hopefully will bring more people forward who have similar claims.

Sicoli is the pastor at Holy Spirit Church in South Philadelphia. Sicoli has denied the allegations, but, on July 1, he took a voluntary leave of absence just before the claims were made public.

According to the lawsuits, the church hierarchy knew about the abuse but allowed Sicoli to remain a parish priest and to have access to children. The church "fraudulently concealed the abuse by reassigning priests" such as Sicoli while knowing he had a problem, the lawsuits claim.

Woodruff and the two men were active parishioners and altar servers and had attended the church's elementary school.

A Philadelphia archdiocese spokeswoman refused to comment on the specific claims in the lawsuit.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese said in a news release Thursday that Cannon was removed from the ministry in November, after the diocese determined the allegations are credible.

The archdiocese is investigating the allegations against Sicoli and has reported him to authorities. The case is also before the Archdiocesan Review Board.

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