A priest who has ministered to IndyCar drivers and fans for decades now stands accused of child molestation.
A man now in his 40s has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Father Philip DeRea abused him more than 30 years ago in Washington, D.C. The statute of limitations would prevent criminal charges from being filed.
In the lawsuit, which also lists DeRea's order, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, as a defendant, the man says he was 11 years old when the abuse started. The lawsuit asserts DeRea, in a calculated fashion, groomed the victim to lay the groundwork for sexual contact with him. The suit claims DeRea fondled the victim, had oral sex with him and showed him pornographic movies. It even claims that at one point religious staff and nuns saw DeRea take the victim to his bedroom. The lawsuit says the abuse went on for about 8 years.
Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, or SNAP, said the man alerted church officials months ago.
"The church officials have known for a while." Blaine said. "How long, I'm not sure. I believe that the victim in this case informed them several months ago. And yet the church officials have not quickly removed him."
The abuse has had severe effects on the man who was abused as a boy, Blaine said.
"This was the cause of a breakup of his marriage. It has caused an incredible amount of pain and suffering to not only him, but to the people who love him," she said.
The lawsuit claims the victim sent an email in 2010 to DeRea, who responded by saying: "I did you and your family a great injustice and am sorry for my weakness and sinfulness." The lawsuit also claims DeRea offered a $35,000 bribe to the victim to keep quiet.
DeRea, who lives in Aurora, Ill., has been a friend and advisor to numerous race car drivers, including Dario Franchitti (for whom he presided over his 2001 marriage to Ashley Judd). DeRea was associated with IndyCar through IndyCar Ministry. There have been reports that he has been the official chaplain of the Indianapolis 500, but a spokesperson for that organization told 24-Hour News 8 that is not the case.
Because DeRea did not work in an official capacity for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, no official statement will be issued about the lawsuit. But the organization did post the story on its facebook page, saying: "We wanted to report it to fans, who like us, think highly of Father Phil."
Indycar Ministry did not return calls for comment.
In the lawsuit, the victim is seeking compensation of more than $75.000. He is also asking that DeRea be banned from contact with children.
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It's very rare that a single person can reach across national, racial, and spiritual borders to bring such hope and healing.
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