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Lawsuit accuses IndyCar Ministry priest of sexual abuse

A lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court accuses a priest associated with IndyCar racing of sexually abusing a boy over an eight-year period.

The lawsuit alleges Father Philip DeRea “groomed” the boy to create an emotional bond and lay the groundwork for the sexual conduct in the 1980s in Washington, D.C. It seeks more than $75,000 from Father DeRea, and the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Aurora.

The suit says the man, now grown, “was not aware that the sexual abuse was affecting his life – or even that he had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Father DeRea – until 2006.” It says an unspecified incident involving his son brought back memories of the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit says the plaintiff started suffering financial and emotional problems that led to the loss of his business and his marriage.

It claims he sent an e-mail to Father DeRea with the subject, “Why did you hurt me?” and that the priest responded, “I have waited all these years with a heavy heart and great regret, to hear from you.…I did you and your family a great injustice…I was horribly weak and out of control.”

The priest said he’d gotten professional help, and was anxious to make amends. He allegedly sent money to the plaintiff and encouraged him to keep quiet. Eventually, Father DeRea got an attorney, who told the plaintiff to stop contacting Father DeRea.

The lawsuit says Father DeRea is a “semi-celebrity priest” who’s married celebrities and traveled to races.

It claims he abused his position of trust and authority. It also says the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was negligent in supervising the priest and putting in place safeguards to protect children, and that the order was aware he had received treatment for pedophilia, but took “no steps” to protect the plaintiff or other children.

One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Marc Pearlman, said he’s troubled Father DeRea remains a public figure.

“It’s alarming to me there hasn’t been more of a public announcement of his sexual misconduct, and they haven’t completely removed him, not only from ministry...but as far as we can tell, he’s out in the public doing his thing and children are at great risk,” he said.

The spokesman for the head of the U.S. province of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Aurora says the order immediately removed Father DeRea from public ministry and contact with minors pending an investigation, after receiving the sexual abuse allegation in December 2010.

The spokesman says the order also sent Father DeRea for evaluation, which suggested a treatment program.  The order contacted Praesidium Inc., which recommended a comprehensive safety plan that includes constant monitoring, no access to minors, therapy and no traveling alone.

The spokesman says the safety plan remains in place while the investigation continues.

It was unclear what role Father DeRea continues to play with IndyCar Ministry. The group still lists him as its Catholic chaplain on its website.

Neither Father DeRea nor the head of the IndyCar Ministry could be reached for comment.

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