A recent lawsuit alleging that a religious order priest sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl in 2006 was among the nearly 180 sex abuse civil complaints filed this month alone against the Catholic Church in New Jersey.
The claim caught the attention of the attorney for the Diocese of Paterson, who said he routinely passes allegations of abuse to law enforcement authorities. This one warranted added urgency because of when the abuse allegedly occurred. The attorney sent information about the complaint to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office on the day he received it several weeks ago.
“It’s possible there still could be a prosecutable offense,” said the attorney, Kenneth Mullaney. New Jersey lifted its criminal statute of limitations for the most serious sex offenses in 1996.
The accused priest, Benoit Guichard, who no longer works in New Jersey, belongs to a religious order — the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter — and is not a diocesan priest, Mullaney said. The order runs Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Pequannock. Guichard now works at a seminary in Nebraska.
By last week, more than 820 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clerics, teachers and nuns had been filed in New Jersey against Catholic dioceses and orders since Dec. 1, 2019, when the state suspended the civil statute of limitations for civil sex abuse complaints for two years.
As Tuesday’s deadline to file under that provision approached, state courts have been flooded with sex abuse lawsuits.
Recent suits include two new claims against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and a second accusation against the late Newark Archdiocese Archbishop Peter Gerety. Many of the allegations are decades old, and many name priests who have died. But some of the lawsuits contain allegations against living priests that could fall within the criminal statute of limitations, leading to potential prosecution by law enforcement.
In addition to the Pequannock case, another recent lawsuit alleges that a priest at St. Joseph parish in Bogota abused a teenager there in 2016. Other cases against priests that could fall within the criminal statute are out of Wallington, Livingston and Scotch Plains. And one of the lawsuits against McCarrick, out of Hackensack, could also fall into that category.
The many lawsuits have the potential to put enormous financial pressure on the Catholic Church at a time when Mass attendance and revenues are down, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic dioceses in the U.S. that have filed for bankruptcy protection over the past two years include Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo in upstate New York, Rockville Centre on Long Island, Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, New Orleans, and Camden.
An examination of court records shows that 779 lawsuits have been filed against New Jersey's five dioceses, with an additional 44 naming only religious orders, as of Nov. 24.
There were more than 1,200 sex abuse cases of all kinds filed under the new law as of Oct. 31, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts. The state said about two of every three cases named “a religious entity” as a defendant. Almost 14% named a school, and a little less than one in 10 were filed against the Boy Scouts.
More than half of all the lawsuits filed were related to the Catholic Church, which acknowledged covering up allegations and allowing allegedly abusive priests to continue working decades ago. At the same time, a state Attorney General’s Office task force has spent the past two years investigating sexual abuse and possible cover-ups in the Catholic Church to present to a grand jury. The state has not said when it plans to release a report, but it likely was delayed by the pandemic.
Advocates for abuse survivors have been calling on state legislators to extend the suspension of the civil statute of limitations beyond Tuesday’s deadline — even if they do so retroactively. They say the lawsuits have helped victims to heal and that potential revelations in the attorney general’s report could lead more people to come forward.
“If and when it comes out and reveals new perpetrators, what are we going to do with the victims?” said Mark Crawford, head of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. He added that the suspension of the civil statute of limitations “needs to be extended.”
Crawford said he believes some allegations from the lawsuits could lead to arrests — but law enforcement officials may wait for the state to complete its investigation of the Catholic Church.
“I suspect they might wait for the grand jury to present these cases,” he said.
250 clerics accused in 820 lawsuits
The Record and NorthJersey.com has compiled a database of the lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church in New Jersey over the past two years. They contain allegations that span seven decades, from the 1940s though 2016. About 250 Catholic clerics have been accused of sexual abuse, including dozens never named publicly before.
A NorthJersey.com analysis of the civil complaints found:
• There have been 432 suits filed against the Newark Archdiocese, 85 against the Paterson Diocese, 182 against Trenton and 70 against Metuchen. The Camden Diocese was sued 54 times before it declared bankruptcy last year. Some lawsuits name more than one diocese as defendants. Religious orders also have been named in many of the suits against dioceses.
• The Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, which runs the Delbarton School in Morris Township, has been sued 36 times under the new law and has another pending case. There are 23 suits related to Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell — though the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America, which oversees the school, can't be sued, as part of a nationwide settlement agreement made years ago. The Salesians of Don Bosco have been sued 19 times, including five related to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, which it oversees. Paramus Catholic High School is named in 14 cases, all but one related to 1980s allegations against former ice hockey coach Bernard Garris.
• A little more than a third of the lawsuits make accusations against one or more of the 188 clerics listed by the state's dioceses two years ago as having been credibly accused of abusing children. Additional accusations have been made against order priests, nuns, teachers, church employees and diocese clerics who were not on the lists.
• There are 251 people alleging they were abused when they were 10 years old or under -- about 40% of cases against the state's diocese in which the age of the victim was determined. One in seven lawsuits involved children who were 7 years old and under. Women are plaintiffs in one out of every 13 of the lawsuits.
• More than 80% of the allegations stem from incidents from the 1960s through the 1980s. More than 40 suits are related to allegations from the 1990s or later.
Suits accuse leaders McCarrick, Gerety
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once one of the church's most powerful prelates in the United States, has been accused of abuse in 10 New Jersey lawsuits.
The most recent complaint was filed Wednesday and alleges that the former cardinal sexually abused an altar boy at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen 150 times between 1982 and 1986. The abuse allegedly began when the boy was 10 years old. McCarrick, who was the Metuchen bishop at the time, allegedly told the boy that it "is part of your job as an altar boy” and would bring them both "closer to the lord."
John Baldante, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said the plaintiff, Christopher Allen, wanted to be identified in court papers to encourage other abuse survivors to come forward. Allen alleges that McCarrick last abused him on the day before his eighth grade graduation in June 1986.
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The lawsuit says "this final episode" was seared into Allen's memory, and he recalled thinking it "would thankfully be the last time he would have to subject himself to McCarrick’s predacious sexual subjugation."
One month later, in July 1986, McCarrick was installed as the archbishop of Newark.
Another suit accusing the former cardinal of abuse was filed earlier last week by a former priest, Michael Reading, who said McCarrick groped him during a trip to a Jersey Shore house in 1986. Reading, who was an adult seminarian at the time of the alleged abuse, previously spoke about the abuse to The Record and NorthJersey.com.
A lawsuit filed two years ago, on the first day such complaints could be filed under the new law, alleged that McCarrick abused a boy at St. Francis of Assisi in Hackensack in "1995 or 1996, when Plaintiff was approximately 13 or 14 years old." The timing could place that case within the criminal statute — state law allows prosecution of the most serious sexual offenses if the victim had not turned 23 years old as of May 1, 1996.
McCarrick moved on to lead the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., in 2001. A Vatican report issued last year said several New Jersey bishops lied in letters to Pope John Paul II about what they knew about sex abuse allegations against McCarrick, paving the way for his promotion to Washington.
In 2019, McCarrick became the first American cardinal to be defrocked amid allegations that he abused children and adult seminarians. The former cardinal also faces criminal charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of a boy in Massachusetts. He is living in a Missouri rehabilitation center for troubled priests, according to court documents.
In separate lawsuits, the late Peter Gerety, McCarrick's predecessor as archbishop of Newark, has been accused of sexually abusing two girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
The first suit was filed eight months ago and was the first accusation of sexual abuse made public against Gerety, who was a pivotal figure in the 1970s for his role in implementing reforms of the Vatican II Conference that modernized the church.
A second lawsuit was filed on Nov. 16 alleging that Gerety abused another girl at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark from 1984 to 1989, starting when the child was 5 years old.
The woman who filed the first suit said in an affidavit provided to NorthJersey.com that she initially believed Gerety was sent by God because he brought food to her impoverished family. She said the prelate took her to his bedroom in the rectory of the cathedral in Newark, where he instructed her to lie on the bed, and abused her several times in 1976 when she was 5 years old.
Priests with the most accusations
As of last week, five priests have each been accused in 12 or more lawsuits filed under the new law and two have been named in at least 20 complaints each — John Capparelli, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese, and Timothy Brennan, a priest who taught at the Delbarton School decades ago.
Capparelli, accused in 20 lawsuits, was fatally shot at his home in Nevada two years ago shortly after New Jersey dioceses released lists of credibly accused priests. The man who allegedly killed him reportedly answered his advertisement for male wrestlers.
Capparelli had been accused of abuse in the 1980s and suspended from ministry in 1992, but went on to teach in Newark public schools until he retired in 2013. State records show he had been receiving a pension of almost $3,000 per month before he died. Two years ago, the Newark Archdiocese listed him as permanently removed from ministry and laicized.
The most recent accusation against Capparelli was made in a lawsuit filed on Nov. 15, which said he “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with an 18-year-old student at Seton Hall University in South Orange in 2000.
Nine lawsuits are related to Capparelli’s time at Holy Trinity parish in Westfield, while other suits allege abuse in Ridgewood, North Bergen, Kenilworth, South Plainfield, Harrison, Summit, Scotch Plains and West New York.
Timothy Brennan, who died two years ago, is the subject of 21 lawsuits under the new law. St. Mary's Abbey and the Order of St. Benedict in New Jersey, which runs the Delbarton School, settled another 10 claims against him before the law changed. Brennan had pleaded guilty in 1987 to aggravated sexual contact with a 15-year-old Delbarton student. The order later settled a complaint by the student's family by paying more than $1 million.
Brennan continued working for years after his conviction resulted in a probationary sentence — as a chaplain at a nursing home and a hospital in Lakewood — before he was sent to live at a monastery in Elmira, New York. In 2002, amid a national sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, he was moved out of the monastery and sent to a Missouri rehabilitation center for troubled priests.
Alleged assault at Pequannock chapel
While many of the accused priests are deceased, several lawsuits that accuse living priests could fall within the criminal statute of limitations, which was lifted in 1996.
In a lawsuit filed several weeks ago, a woman alleged that an order priest, Benoit Guichard, repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was a child at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Pequannock. Guichard, who worked at the chapel from 2004 to 2013, befriended the girl’s family and visited her home, according to court papers. During gatherings at the chapel, he led the girl upstairs, where he allegedly sexually abused her 50 times from 2006 to 2008, starting when she was 12 years old.
Guichard, who is listed as a dean at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, responded to a message last week by having an attorney contact The Record and NorthJersey.com.
“So sad that we see another frivolous and ridiculous lawsuit filed by a person who would say anything in the attempt to make a payday, and in the process destroy the reputation of a good and holy Catholic priest,” Vincent Sanzone, the attorney, said in a statement he read over the phone.
Sanzone, a criminal attorney from Elizabeth, declined to answer questions, including whether his client had been contacted by law enforcement authorities.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office declined to say whether it is investigating.
Elodie Turpin, the plaintiff, was identified by name in the complaint. Through her attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, she declined to be interviewed.
Sudol accused of abuse in 2000
Gerald Sudol, a former Ridgefield Park priest, has been accused of sexual abuse in seven lawsuits. The most recent, filed this month, alleges that he abused a boy whose family attended Most Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Wallington. The abuse allegedly occurred from 1996 to 2000, when the boy was 7 to 11 years old, potentially placing the case within the criminal statute of limitations.
Greg Gianforcaro, the attorney who filed the complaint, said his client met Sudol when the priest visited the Wallington parish.
“He’s only recently come out about what happened, but I do believe that if prosecutors saw fit to question him, he would be very interested in giving them information about his claim,” Gianforcaro said of his client.
A separate lawsuit filed last year said Sudol was a seminary student and a parishioner of the Wallington parish when he abused a boy there in 1976. Sudol has been accused in two other lawsuits of abusing boys at St. Francis of Assisi in the 1990s. In one case, the alleged abuse took place from 1988 to 1994, when the boy was 9 to 15 years old. The other suit alleges he abused an 8-year-old in 1991 and 1992.
NorthJersey.com has reported that the Newark Archdiocese knew about allegations of Sudol abusing children at St. Francis since at least 1996, when McCarrick was archbishop. But the priest worked for years afterward and as late as 2018 was living in a Jersey City parish that included a grammar school. In 2019, the archdiocese revealed that Sudol had been permanently removed from ministry because of multiple credible allegations of sexual abuse. He now lives in Pennsylvania.
Other more recent allegations
Two years ago, the Newark Archdiocese announced that the Rev. John J. Galeano had relinquished his duties at St. Joseph Church in Bogota after "allegations of inappropriate conduct" were made. Church officials said in a statement that it did not involve abuse of a minor.
A little more than a week ago, a lawsuit filed in state court alleged that "in or around 2016," Galeano sexually abused a parishioner who was "approximately 17 years old."
An attorney who represents the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Andrew J. D’Arcy, did not return a call seeking further information. The Newark Archdiocese did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Wednesday.
In another case, John Laferrera, a Newark Archdiocese priest, was accused of abusing a 15-year-old boy at St. Philomena parish in Livingston in 2008 and 2009. Two other lawsuits allege abuse by Laferrera from decades before — including one that said he abused boys with McCarrick and other priests at a Jersey Shore home in the 1980s.
Laferrera was on the credibly accused list released two years ago. Victims' advocates have said the Newark Archdiocese, then led by the late Archbishop John Myers, promoted Laferrera in 2009 after an abuse complaint was lodged against him. He was removed from ministry several years later after the archdiocese paid five people $300,000 to settle abuse claims.
Another lawsuit filed earlier this year alleges that Kevin Gugliotta, a priest who worked in Union and Bergen counties, sexually abused a 9-year-old altar boy at St. Bartholomew parish in Scotch Plains in 2006.
In 2003, three years before the alleged abuse, Newark Archdiocese officials were notified of a prior allegation against Gugliotta, from when he was a Boy Scout leader in the 1980s. Church officials have said they had no authority to punish him because he was not yet a priest when abuse allegedly occurred.
After the church investigated in 2003, Gugliotta worked another 13 years as a priest — and oversaw a youth ministry at one parish, according to court documents — until archdiocesan officials removed him from ministry after his 2016 arrest on child pornography charges in Pennsylvania, where he now lives and is listed on the state's sex offender registry.
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Abbott Koloff is an investigative reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his watchdog work that safeguards our communities and democracy, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Catholic Church sex abuse lawsuit filing deadline of Dec. 1 nears