A retired priest who for years has celebrated Masses at several churches in Wilmington has been accused of sexually abusing a minor during the late 1970s in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York.
The Rev. Louis E. Douglas, who moved to Wilmington in 1996 after retiring from the Albany, N.Y., diocese, has been accused with three other Albany priests of sexually molesting, abusing and preying upon a boy between 1975 and 1979. The Supreme Court lawsuit, which asks for $600,000 in damages, also accuses the 74-year-old priest of molesting other adolescent males both before and after the late 1970s.
Douglas has celebrated Masses at St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Elizabeth, Christ Our King and St. Patrick’s churches in Wilmington, said Bob Krebs, spokesman for the Wilmington diocese. “He has been helping out on an as-needed basis in some of our parishes,” he said. “He has had no school activities or youth ministries.”
Douglas no longer can perform duties in the Wilmington diocese while the suit is under review by the courts, Krebs said. Douglas and the Diocese of Albany could not be reached for comment.
Because he lives in the neighborhood of St. Patrick’s Church at Fifth and King streets, Douglas has celebrated Mass on weekends for the parish, said the Rev. James F. Trainor. “It’s a sad surprise,” Trainor said. “I’ve known him since he came to Wilmington. He’s a very wonderful person, a kind, gentle man, and he’s made an impression here.”
Douglas occasionally celebrated Masses on Sunday mornings and Monday evenings at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and substituted for the Rev. James Nash at Christ Our King Church on Monday mornings, Nash’s day off.
According to the suit, the plaintiff knew Douglas at St. Margaret’s of Corona Church in Rotterdam Junction in Schenectady, N.Y. The suit accuses Douglas and the other priests of giving the boy alcohol so he “could not properly defend or protect himself from the unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances.”
The suit also accuses Douglas of having sexual relationships with adolescent males while working at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Albany during the late 1980s. The suit accuses Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard of not doing anything about the abuse “because there was no sexual self-gratification” by Douglas, “although sexual acts of young boys occurred” in his presence.
Three other Albany priests named in the suit, the Rev. Alan J. Jupin, the Rev. Neil Cawlings and the Rev. Donald Ophals, also are accused of sexually abusing the boy. The suit claims negligence by Albany Bishop Hubbard, the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chancellor for public information, and the diocese itself.
According to the Albany diocese’s Web site, the diocese last June permanently removed six priests for abusing children in prior years. Before that, it had removed five priests for similar offenses. It also reported that three priests have been suspended pending investigation of allegations.
Krebs said Douglas applied to perform ministry at the Wilmington diocese when he moved here seven years ago. “After Albany told us that Douglas was retired and a priest in good standing and was suitable for ministry, we granted him ‘faculties to perform ministry,’ ” which allows a priest to say Mass, baptize and perform marriages and funerals.
Krebs said the diocese also was told by Albany that “there had been an allegation of sexual abuse and an investigation, and it was concluded that no sexual abuse had occurred.” Krebs did not know who conducted the investigation.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, John Aretakis, said this suit accuses Douglas of physically molesting his client when he was 17. The diocese has 30 days to respond to the suit.
Aretakis has represented more than 100 others who have claimed abuse from Catholic priests. According to a statement released by the Albany diocese last year, it has paid out more than $2 million in settlements to those who accused its priests of abuse, including nearly $1 million to Aretakis and a former client in 1997.
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