Father Phil Dies

Father Phil DeRea
Father Phil DeRea

It is with great sadness that we report the passing yesterday of Father Phil DeRea at the age of 75 – the Roman Catholic Priest who helped start the CART IndyCar Ministries and who traveled to all the CART races giving blessings to the racing community week-in and week-out. He started when Mario Andretti brought him to the races and it blossomed from there – for 40 years. The following video from the AutoRacing1 YouTube page is from an Extra! Special on Father Phil and just about says it all. He was very well liked and a fantastic dinner conversationalist.

DeRea enjoyed celebrity status for his association with the Andrettis and auto racing. He spent time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and worked as a missionary in Haiti and Colombia.

He was ordained a priest on Sept. 21, 1968, at Holy Family Church in Nazareth and was a member of the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a religious order of priests.

However, he had a major black mark over his head that he carried to his grave.

In 2011 a Maryland man who claimed he was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest with ties to the Lehigh Valley says the priest sent him e-mails acknowledging the abuse and offered $35,000 in hush money last year.

The 42-year-old man, identified only as John Doe, detailed the allegations that he said spanned about eight years, starting around 1980, in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Illinois.

The defendant, the Rev. Philip DeRea, was born and raised in the Lehigh Valley and for years was chaplain to professional auto racing circuits.

DeRea, 69 at the time, who was born in Roseto and raised in Nazareth, could not be reached for comment. He was ordained a priest in 1968 at Holy Family Church in Nazareth.

At the time longtime friend Mario Andretti defended DeRea, saying the allegations were incredible and suggesting the plaintiff was looking to cash in on the priest's associations with the racing legend and other celebrities.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed he met DeRea, who lived just a few blocks from him in Washington, D.C., when the plaintiff was 11 and offered to shovel snow for the priest after a snowstorm.

According to the complaint, the man had repressed the memories of the sexual abuse until an incident involving his son in 2006 that prompted a flood of memories. In subsequent months, the complaint alleges, the plaintiff got divorced, lost his restaurant franchise business and struggled with financial problems.

Last June, the man sent an e-mail to DeRea with the subject line "Why did you hurt me?" according to the lawsuit.

DeRea responded within an hour, the lawsuit says.

"I have waited all these years with a heavy heart and great regret to hear from you," the response said, according to the lawsuit. "…I did you and your family a great injustice and am sorry for my weakness and sinfulness. I was horribly weak and out of control. … I have been agonizing over this for years. I have gone for professional help and have received help. I take it one day at a time. I am anxious to hear from you and to make amends."

The lawsuit claimed the two corresponded frequently by e-mail over the next several weeks, with DeRea telling the plaintiff to send copies of bills for his mortgage, his health insurance, his children’s Catholic school tuition and other expenses.

DeRea promised financial assistance by raising money from donors, but "began to pull back on his promise" as he learned the scope of the plaintiffs bills, the lawsuit claims.

DeRea retained a lawyer by last September who wrote to the plaintiff and instructed him to refrain from contact with the priest, the lawsuit says.

The lawyer characterized payments DeRea had made as being rooted in "friendship," the lawsuit claims, but asked the plaintiff to execute a release of all claims against DeRea for a one-time payment of $35,000.

The lawsuit described the alleged abuse in graphic detail. The plaintiff claimed he for years obeyed DeRea's instructions not to tell anyone about their sexual contact because of his admiration for DeRea.

The plaintiff pursued a personal injury claim against DeRea and a permanent injunction barring the priest from contact with children. The lawsuit seeked more than $75,000 in damages. We never heard the outcome, but we assume the case was settled out of court.

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