Woman Sues Catholic Order in Delaware, Alleging Maryland-Based Priest Sexually Abused Her When She Was a Child

Law Office of Thomas Neuberger

Joyce Harper, 74, alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that Oblate priest George Mahoney sexually abused her and another girl after mass at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Centreville, Maryland, in 1960. Harper was just 10 at the time, she said.

A woman is suing the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic order based in Delaware, for sexual abuse she says she suffered as a young girl at the hands of a priest in Maryland more than 60 years ago.

Joyce Harper, 74, alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday and obtained and reviewed by Inside Edition Digital that she was only 10 when Oblate Priest George Mahoney sexually abused her and another girl after mass at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Centreville, Maryland.

Mahoney died in 1971.

The lawsuit says that in 1960, Mahoney invited Harper and three other girls to help him count the Sunday offering money and then the priest allegedly took the plaintiff and another girl to his room in the church rectory and sexually assaulted them, one at a time.

Mahoney told the girls, “If you tell anyone about this you will go to hell,” the lawsuit alleges.

“After I grew up and left the Eastern Shore I never went to church on my own. I could not stand the mere sight of a priest and whenever I did I would have immediate flashbacks to evilness endured,” Harper says in a statement released by her attorney Thomas Neuberger to Inside Edition Digital. 

“To this day I have flashbacks of the abuse I endured, and especially when I see a young girl,” she says.

Harper, who is now based in Florida, also says that she has since lost her faith in the Catholic church due to the incident.

"I always thought all men were only interested in me for sex. Throughout my life I've had no trust in men," she says. "I have never handled pressure or anxiety of any kind well and go into panic mode fast, much to the dismay of my husband while he is driving."

The six-count civil lawsuit accuses Oblates of assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiring with Mahoney to "hide and actively suppress and intentionally misrepresent his sexual and/or physical abuse of children."

"Defendants made a calculated business decision that it would be less costly to cover-up Mahoney’s history of sexual and/or physical abuse and continually to move him to new locations than to deal with the ramifications of stopping and exposing his sexual and/or physical abuse of children," the suit says. 

It also accuses Oblates of aiding and abetting Mahoney. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages and other relief.

Neuberger says that while his client is ready to go to court, he understands that time is of the essence as all the major players in the case are elderly. Two witnesses who gave sworn affidavits that Harper was sexually assaulted are also elderly, he says.  

“I've got affidavits from them, but once again, we've got to get them in a video deposition or something like that in case they pass on. We just can't sit back and negotiate for years,” he says.

Inside Edition Digital has reached out to Oblates of St. Francis de Sales for comment and have not heard back.

The lawsuit filed by Harper says, “The Oblates have been aware of the serious problem of clergy sexual abuse of children throughout their history, and even long before the early 1800s.”

The diocese of Wilmington declared bankruptcy in 2009. It eventually settled with survivors of church sex abuse for $77 million. The settlement included protection against further lawsuits connected to sex abuse allegations, The Baltimore Sun reported. The diocese of Wilmington is not named in Harper's lawsuit.

While the Oblates joined the diocese's bankruptcy case, the order is not protected against future claims, Neuberger says. 

Neuberger has represented over 150 clients who claim they are church sex assault survivors in lawsuits against the diocese between 2007 and 2009.

Harper saw a way forward in her own particular case in October 2023, when Maryland enacted its Child Victims Act, Neuberger says. The law, which took effect Oct. 1, eliminated statutes of limitations in cases where people were sexually abused as children. Without such a limit, lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and the institutions that may have enabled them had a way forward, according to The Baltimore Sun.

“Justice will now have to come from the Oblates, and justice will come from the fact that people are learning that this priest was a predator,” Neuberger tells Inside Edition Digital.

Neuberger says that his client has suffered 66 years of post-traumatic stress.

“They knew that his predator was abusing people, and they didn't do anything about it,” Neuberger says of the order. “I'm ashamed of the Oblates.”

Neuberger says that he has obtained records that indicate Mahoney was a problematic priest.

"I've already got his personnel file," he says. "It's in code. They don't use words like ‘predator’ or whatever. They use other kinds of words. You'll find a paragraph or so in my complaint on that. They use a code word; Problems, disturbing, anger, things like that. These are all code words for, you've been abusing somebody. So, it's all in the files and they don't throw anything away.”

Neuberger says that it has been a "relief" for his client to finally come out publicly and say what has tormented her for 66 years.

“It takes a while to get your courage up," he says. "It takes a while to overcome the handicaps. With [Harper], it was alcoholism for a couple decades. The inability to form meaningful relationships, those kinds of things. It takes a while. You overcome all that, and then you want justice."

Her wounds are not dissimilar to other survivors of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, Neuberger says.

“Everyone has permanent scars. Everyone has difficulty with relationships. You can't hold a job. Because you have problems with authority figures. I mean, hey, if a priest isn't an authority figure, who is, if you're Catholic? You go through substance abuse, you go through self-medication, alcoholism, things like that. They all go through that," he says. "Nightmares. You have flashbacks. You're permanently scarred. You could be suffering from PTSD, major depression, these people suffer forever. You can't get rid of the memory. Think of this -- she's a 10-year-old.

“You fight the demons. You fight the demons. This is evil,” he continues. “The evil does exist. It causes scars on those who are fighting for the victims.”

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