PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Florida man is suing the current and former leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, claiming he was subjected to years of sexual abuse at the hands of a former priest and the diocese covered it up.
The lawsuit is a potential test case for the new law, passed in June, that extended the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse.
The 53-year-old plaintiff alleges in the suit he was abused by Fr. Philip Magaldi, who is now dead, while he was an altar boy in North Providence in the late 1970s through the early 1980s.
In the 200-page lawsuit, the man alleges Magaldi touched him inappropriately between 100 and 300 times over the course of about five years.
Magaldi, the former pastor at Saint Anthony Church in North Providence, died in 2008. He was named on a list of “credibly accused” priests released by the diocese over the summer.
The lawsuit states Magaldi postured himself to be caring and affectionate but “touched the plaintiff every chance he could get.”
The accuser also details several incidents where Magaldi allegedly gave him alcohol when he was a minor. When he would ask Magaldi to stop touching him, Magaldi would reportedly threaten to tell his father that he had gotten drunk.
The lawsuit names current Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin and then-Bishop Louis Gelineau, claiming the diocese knew about systemic issues of sexual assault within its churches and at times did nothing about it.
A spokesperson for the diocese said in a statement, “Late Tuesday afternoon, a lawsuit was filed based on claims alleged to have occurred approximately 40 years ago. Our legal counsel is in the process of reviewing it.”
The plaintiff’s attorney, Timothy Conlon, said this is the first known case to be filed since Rhode Island extended its statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims from seven years to 35 years after the victim turns 18.
Wednesday is the alleged victim’s 53rd birthday, which meant it was his last chance to file suit. The diocese was served with the lawsuit on Tuesday, according to court records.
The statute of limitations bill extended the time to file a lawsuit against both perpetrators and institutions to 35 years, but made it retroactive only for perpetrators. That means victims whose seven-year statute already tolled prior to the bill becoming law can only sue perpetrators, not “non-perpetrator defendants” such as churches or schools.
But Conlon said in this case, the victim alleges the church is actually the perpetrator for allowing sexual abuse to “fester” for decades.
“You don’t sue the cockroaches for being in a restaurant, you sue the restaurant for letting the cockroaches breed,” Conlon said.
The diocese lobbied against multiple iterations of the statute of limitations bill, before ultimately supporting the final version.
“They’re at a crossroads as far as I’m concerned,” Conlon said of the diocese. “They can either gracefully acknowledge that what they did was truly wrong on a legal, moral level and stop hiding from that era and do justice by these victims. That’s what I’d like to see happen.”
Conlon said he expects more of Magaldi’s victims to come forward.
Magaldi pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges in 1992 and spent two years in prison. Prosecutors said he used church funds for vacations with teenagers and buying gifts.