Kinnelon Man:N.Y. Priest a Molester
Alleged Victim, 26, Claims Sexual Abuse Occurred in 1980s
By Abbott Koloff
January 20, 2004
LIVINGSTON -- A Kinnelon man who says he was sexually molested by a Staten Island priest in the 1980s held a press conference Monday during which his attorney and relatives criticized New York Roman Catholic officials for refusing to remove that priest from a parish.
Daniel O'Dougherty Jr., 29, said during the press conference that he was abused by the priest for three years, starting in the sixth grade, and that he was too ashamed to tell anyone about it until late last year -- shortly after reading about the suicide of James Kelley, a Morristown man who allegedly had been abused by a former Mendham priest.
"I feel like a weight has been lifted," O'Dougherty said. "I can talk about it now."
Bruce Nagel, O'Dougherty's attorney, said his client had been sexually molested by Monsignor Thomas Gaffney, the pastor of St. Charles parish, while he had been an altar boy at the church. He said the family has not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit but have asked church officials to remove Gaffney from his job as pastor.
Gaffney, who is 80 years old, has denied the allegations, church officials said Monday. The priest refused to comment when reached by phone Monday and referred calls to his attorney, Stephen "Skippy" Weinstein of Morristown.
"The only thing we're going to say is that this just never happened," Weinstein said.
Nagel charged that the Archdiocese of New York, by refusing to remove Gaffney from his job, was in violation of an agreement reached two years ago by American bishops, known as the Dallas Charter, which requires priests to be placed on administrative leave for any credible allegation of child abuse. The cases then are to be examined by local church review boards to determine whether further actions are warranted.
Church officials said on Monday that they have not removed Gaffney because they have not been given the opportunity to talk to the alleged victim. They also said the priest, who was ordained 54 years ago, has never been the subject of any similar allegation. Nagel claimed he has uncovered additional cases, but did not claim to have proof that the archdiocese knew about them.
"We have asked for an opportunity to speak to him and determine what action is appropriate," said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for New York Archbishop Cardinal Edward Egan. "The Dallas charter calls for us to do an investigation but a priest still has rights.
"Is it a credible allegation when we don't have an opportunity to speak with the person making the allegation?"
Nagel, and victim's advocates who attended Monday's press conference at the attorney's office, said the allegations were specific enough to be credible under the Dallas Charter, even without the alleged victim being interviewed by church officials. Nagel said church officials have a copy of a statement, which includes a detailed account of alleged abuse, made to the Staten Island district attorney's office and a sworn statement that those allegations are true and accurate.
That kind of evidence has been enough for Paterson Diocese officials to place priests on administrative leave. Ken Mullaney, an attorney for the Paterson Diocese, said priests have been removed from their assignments even when church officials have not been able to talk directly to accusers.
Zwilling said the Archdiocese of New York has made repeated attempts to talk to O'Dougherty, and at one point last year even set up an interview that later was cancelled. Nagel said he would allow church officials to interview his client, but only if they also allow him to interview Gaffney. He cited legal reasons but did not get into specifics. Nagel also said he told church officials that he would allow his client to submit to a lie detector test, as long as Gaffney also takes such a test.
Zwilling called that a "red herring" and said church officials couldn't force Gaffney to take a lie detector test.
Nagel also said he has uncovered evidence that seven other children had been molested by Gaffney. He said he talked to one young man who claimed to have been abused and that his investigation has uncovered information about at least six other cases. He said he sent a letter to the New York Archdiocese to inform church officials of those allegations.
Zwilling acknowledged that church officials received the letter, but said it did not contain specific information. He said church officials have called Nagel, asking for more information, and faxed a similar request to the attorney Monday.
O'Dougherty, who works for his father's construction company, said he told his parents about the alleged abuse this past October. He said he never talked about it before because he was embarrassed, and he said the priest told him talking about it would be "a huge sin." He also said the priest told him the abuse would bring him closer to God.
O'Dougherty said the results of the abuse caused him to suffer fainting spells whenever he stepped onto a church altar. That condition led his parents to take him to doctors to determine whether he had a physical ailment. The tests, they said, always came up negative.
The fainting spells continued after the O'Doughertys moved to Kinnelon in 1988, they said, and the alleged victim fainted recently when he was called to the altar at his sister's wedding.
The O'Doughertys said they called Staten Island law enforcement authorities in October but, as is typical in such cases, no charges were pursued because the criminal statute of limitations had expired. Church officials said they found out about the allegations from the Staten Island district attorney's office and immediately contacted the family. The O'Doughertys said church officials asked them not to talk about the case.
"They said they could offer counseling, but don't talk to anybody." Cathy O'Dougherty, the alleged victim's mother, said. "I'm not going to shut up. This man has robbed my son's soul. He shouldn't be wearing a collar."
Church officials said Gaffney has claimed not to remember O'Dougherty -- although his parents said they were active on church committees. Nagel claimed Staten Island prosecutors determined his client was a credible witness -- although church officials said there is no such notation in the district attorney's report they received.
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