Ex-altar boy who says R.I. priest sexually abused him on trip to NYC sues in New York

A man who said he was sexually abused as a minor by a now-deceased North Providence priest is suing Rhode Island’s Catholic diocese — but doing it in New York, which makes it easier to sue over abuse from decades past than Rhode Island does.

Philip Edwardo, now 53, said the Rev. Philip Magaldi of St. Anthony Church took him to a Waldorf Astoria hotel room in New York City and sexually assaulted him in 1983. It was one of at least 100 instances of sexual abuse over five years, he said.

Edwardo has also sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in the Rhode Island state courts over abuse that he said occurred here. Like Rhode Island, New York recently extended its statute of limitations to sue over sexual abuse claims. New York, though, went further than Rhode Island in doing so.

Rhode Island in 2019 created a longer deadline, giving people until 35 years after they turn 18 to file suits over childhood sexual abuse. If their claims had already run out under the old law, they could still sue their perpetrators.

Can the diocese’s leaders be held liable as “perpetrators” of abuse? Edwardo, among others, is litigating that question in state court. Edwardo argues that the misconduct of diocesan institutions and leaders was so egregious that it veered into criminal conduct, meaning they can be sued as “perpetrators” under the civil law; the diocese said it cannot.

New York, on the other hand, said people could sue within a new window of time if their claims had already run out no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. And people could sue within that new window whether they were suing the physical abuser or an organization that should have stopped it.

That removes one barrier that Edwardo might face in Rhode Island but won’t face in New York.

Timothy Conlon, an attorney for Edwardo, said priests taking children on trips and abusing them was “common practice.”

“When you hear about a mom having to pack for her kid for a trip, and 30 years later realizes it’s a scam and the priest was having sex with the kid — that’s pain,” Conlon said. “If it turns out they’re accountable in those states that have more progressive statutes to protect kids, so be it.”

The suits involve one of Rhode Island’s most notorious priests, and one of its most sensational criminal trials.

Magaldi, the suit said, went to New York with Edwardo to meet with the socialite Claus von Bulow, who was on bail pending the appeal of his conviction for trying to kill his wife, Martha “Sunny” von Bulow. With Edwardo in tow, Magaldi and von Bulow discussed “specific information Magaldi supposedly had regarding certain facts relevant to Claus von Bulow’s” trial, the suit said.

Magaldi did indeed have connections to the von Bulow case: He was charged in 1985 with lying in a sworn statement submitted on behalf of Claus von Bulow, who would be acquitted at a second trial. That charge against Magaldi was later dismissed because of what prosecutors described as problems with the evidence.

Then-Providence Bishop Louis Gelineau was aware that Magaldi took Edwardo to New York City, according to the suit, which cites a phone call the priest and bishop allegedly had. The suit was filed in New York state court last week. Gelineau is named as a defendant, as is St. Anthony Church — where Edwardo was an altar boy — and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

The diocese didn’t respond to a request for comment about the suit.

Edwardo estimates he was sexually abused 100 to 300 times between the ages of 12 and 17. Among other acts, the suit alleges that Magaldi made Edwardo give him enemas.

Magaldi, who died in 2008, was included in the diocese’s list of priests “credibly accused” of sexual abuse last year.

But his misdeeds were not limited to sexual abuse: He pleaded guilty in 1992 to embezzling St. Anthony Church funds, using them to pay for tropical vacations with teen boys, according to accounts of the prosecution.

Magaldi later moved on to active ministry in Texas, but retired in 1999 in the wake of allegations similar to Edwardo’s, according to news stories at the time.

Edwardo, now living in Florida, said in his suit that he suffere...

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