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Galloway Man Tells Court A.C. Priest Sexually Abused Him

Nov 19, 2002 | Press of Atlantic City

Richard I. Noble says an Atlantic City priest, a close friend of Noble's uncle, who also was a priest took advantage of him one night when he was a teenager, for sexual gratification.

When Noble told his uncle about the sexual abuse, his uncle refused to believe it, Noble said.

"Uncle Bob (Smaldore)'s response was, 'No it didn't (happen),' " Noble testified Monday in an Atlantic City courtroom.

Noble, now 44, a Galloway Township resident and an administrator at the state Division of Youth and Family Services, or DYFS, is one of 19 adults suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden.

They allege that priests sexually abused them when they were children.

In each case, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit has expired. Under the statute, Noble and the others would have had to sue the diocese by the time they were 20 years old.

The plaintiffs are asking Superior Court Judge John Himmelberger Jr. to waive the statute.

To do so, they would have to prove they waited so long to sue because they didn't know they were harmed, or because they were under some form of duress.

Five plaintiffs have come before Himmelberger so far. The judge ruled against all five, saying there wasn't enough evidence to show they were unable to sue before the statute expired.

When Noble gave his testimony Monday, there was no reason to believe his case would come out differently.

For the purposes of the statute-of-limitations hearing, lawyers on both sides are presuming the alleged abuse took place. Camden Diocese attorney Joseph Kenney said he will argue that Noble always knew he had been abused, and should have sued the diocese earlier.

Diocese spokesman Andrew Walton said as he had during the previous plaintiffs' trials that, "if the abuse took place, the diocese stands ready to provide financial assistance for spiritual, psychological and emotional counseling that would assist with healing and reconciliation."

Noble was born in Delaware. He was the son of a Navy officer and grew up in several places. His parents were devout Catholics, and he always attended church and religious classes.

His favorite uncle was the Rev Robert Smaldore, who served as a priest in Barrington and Cherry Hill. One of Smaldore's closest friends was the Rev. Francis Flemming, who served at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Atlantic City.

Noble often spent summers with his uncle as a teenager, and they sometimes visited a Sea Isle City home that belonged to another friend, the Rev. Vincent Carpelli.

Unlike some of the other plaintiffs Noble says he was only abused once, when he was about 15.

He said he was sleeping alone in one of the three bedrooms in Carpelli's shore home. Smaldore and Flemming were sleeping in separate beds, in another bedroom, Noble said in court.

Flemming came into Noble's bedroom and said he couldn't sleep because the other priest was snoring, Noble said. He entered Noble's bed, put his hand inside Noble's underwear and performed oral sex on him before returning to the other bedroom.

Noble said he kept quiet about the matter, and didn't discuss it with his uncle until about two years later.

"Uncle Bob said something to me - we were in his bedroom in his rectory - about Father Flemming being accused of taking advantage of somebody (sexually) and Uncle Bob told me it was ridiculous.

"I said, 'Uncle Bob, maybe it's not,' and proceeded to tell him what Father Fran did to me. And Uncle Bob's response was, 'No it didn't.' "

Noble said he took that to mean, "I was to discuss it no more and as far as he was concerned it never happened, so that was that."

Flemming died almost 17 years ago. He is accused of abusing at least one of the other plaintiffs.

Although Noble is trained as a social worker and worked with youths at two social service agencies before working for DYFS, he said he never knew that what happened to him was harmful or abusive.

He said the subject of sexual abuse never came up in college classes, and none of the youths he knew said they were abused - statements that the diocese's lawyers are likely to look at with skepticism.

Testimony in Noble's case will continue today. If it resembles the previous plaintiffs' cases, it could go on for about a month.

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