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  Alleged Victim Speaks out against Former Priest

By Rita Annan-Brady
Echoes-Sentinel [New Jersey]
April 27, 2005

LONG HILL TWP The name of the Rev. Gerald Ruane is one that is well known, not only locally but also on a national and international scale.

The former Catholic priest, once director of the Sacred Heart Institute of Healing on Roseland Avenue in Caldwell, and a former professor at Caldwell College, was a renowned member of the charismatic healing movement for decades. He has written numerous books and produced audiotapes, videos and speeches on the practice of spiritual healing.

But, according to the Archdiocese of Newark, Ruane has been out of the ministry since 2002 following an allegation of sexual misconduct 25 years ago that the Archdiocesan Review Board found to be credible.

So when it was learned that the former priest concelebrated Mass at the Shrine of St. Joseph in the Stirling section of Long Hill Township on Holy Thursday, March 24 this year, Michael Iatesta, the alleged victim of Ruane, was moved to speak out.

Through his pastoral counselor, the Rev. Robert Hoatson, Iatesta complained to the Newark Archdiocese about Ruane's role in performing the Mass.

This was followed up by a press conference hosted by SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Secaucus on Friday, April 15, at which Iatesta laid out his complaints about Father Ruane's actions in concelebrating the Mass and about the alleged abuse that led up to his being defrocked.

Archdiocese Responds

In response, James Goodness, director of communications and public relations for the Archdiocese of Newark, issued a statement clarifying the position of the archdiocese in relation to the former priest.

Goodness said the archdiocese has investigated whether Rev. Ruane had in fact celebrated a public Mass and found it was true.

"We are very sad and sorry to report that it was," he said.

The statement goes on to say that Archbishop John J. Myers in concert with the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, directed that Father Ruane be removed permanently from public ministry in the church in 2004.

It confirms that it was inappropriate for Ruane to celebrate Mass.

"Father Ruane is unable to celebrate Mass or administer sacraments publicly; he is also prohibited from wearing clerical garb. He can celebrate Mass privately each day, as all priests must, and he can celebrate Mass with and administer sacraments to members of his family again in private," the statement says.

Result Of Investigation

"The archbishop took this action following a long and extensive investigation by the Archdiocesan Review Board of an allegation of sexual misconduct by Father Ruane dating some 25 years ago," the statement from Goodness said. "The board deemed that the allegation, which Mr. Michael Iatesta brought to our attention in 2002, was credible."

Goodness said when Ruane was contacted about the Mass at St. Joseph's the priest said he had believed the Mass concelebrated at a retreat center outside the archdiocese was a "private" celebration.

"He understands now that, because members of the laity were present at this Mass, he violated the directions of the archbishop. He also understands that his actions have caused pain to Mr. Iatesta," Goodness said.

Apologies were offered to Iatesta on behalf of Archbishop Myers and Father Ruane along with "our assurance that the archdiocese takes most seriously its responsibility to investigate fully all allegations of abuse, to remove from ministry priests or religious who have abused trust and to seek to heal victims of abuse."

Ruane chose to let the statement from the archdiocese be his only response and was not available for any further comment. He has moved out of the area and is believed to be building a home in south Jersey.

Reason For Coming Forward

The trigger for Iatesta at hearing of the Mass concelebrated by Ruane is his allegation that he was sexually abused by that very priest.

During the press conference on Friday, with the support of his attorney John Aretakis, Father Hoatson and other advocates, Iatesta laid out his charges against Ruane.

According to Iatesta, he was sexually, emotionally and psychologically abused by the priest at locations in Caldwell, Bloomfield and Verona from 1975 to 1982, from the time he was 13 until he was 20 and took steps to cut off contact with the priest.

Iatesta said Friday he is planning to file a civil lawsuit against the priest, the archdiocese and Archbishop Myers for years of alleged emotional and psychological exploitation.

Iatesta, now 42, and a resident of Westfield, claims the abuse began a year after his father died of cancer in 1974. He said he was first introduced to the priest at a charismatic healing Mass in 1973 and became reacquainted with him in 1975.

"During the next year, I remained a vulnerable, depressed young boy who was desperately seeking comfort and solace from the ordeal of my father's illness and death," he said.

But Iatesta charges the priest failed to provide the support he needed.

"Instead of providing care, spiritual strength and support to me Father Ruane had his own corrupt self-interest in mind, which was neither priestly nor 'fatherly,'" Iatesta said.

According to Iatesta, the priest told him as a boy without a father he needed "ten hugs a day by a man to grow up normal."

During visits to the priest for prayer and healing at various locations, Iatesta claims the hugs escalated to sexual touching and other inappropriate words and behavior.

Iatesta, who works on HIV/AIDS prevention programs for the Centers for Disease Control, is represented by Aretakis, an attorney in New York State, who says during the past 10 years he has represented more than 100 clients in similar cases and won a $1 million settlement against a priest in Albany, N.Y.,

"Victims of clergy sexual abuse [who speak out] are very brave people," Aretakis said. It remains a very difficult and humiliating thing for them to come out and have their stories publicized, he said.

Iatesta said he cut off contact with Ruane when he was 20 and began dating. With the help of his girlfriend, he said, he came to realize the control the priest had over him.

Hospitalized

In 1986, he began seeing a psychologist and was hospitalized at Carrier Clinic for depression and suicidal tendencies, he said.

Later, on the advice of the Rev. Frank McNulty, then of Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament in Roseland, Iatesta said he reported the priest to church authorities.

He said he had also confronted Ruane in 1992.

"I met Father Ruane at his new West Caldwell office and told him I forgave him," Iatesta said. "He appeared cold and distant and simply said, 'I'm glad,'" Iatesta remembered.

Iatesta said his psychological problems resurfaced in 2002 when the Catholic church began to experience a scandal around reported cases of sexual abuse. He says he began having flashbacks and was hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder.

According to the archdiocese, no other allegations of child abuse have been made against Father Ruane.

"No criminal charges have been filed because Mr. Iatesta never brought the allegations either to the church or the authorities," Goodness said. "However it is interesting that over the past 20-plus years, Mr. Iatesta spoke about the abuse with many people who all told him to come forward to us and the police. He chose not to, however. Had he contacted the church earlier, we surely would have taken action immediately, as evidenced by the fact that Father Ruane has not been in ministry since Mr. Iatesta came to us in 2002."

Wants To Protect Children

Iatesta cited several reasons for his coming forward now. In addition to being part of his own healing, he said he wants to protect other children and contribute to a safer community.

He said he also wants to expose not only this individual priest but also the hypocrisy in the church. He wants to see safeguards in place so other priests who violate their positions cannot do it again.

"Who's watching them?" he asked. "Does anybody care? If any good is to come out of this I want there to be safeguards," he said.

This was reiterated by Iatesta's sister, Pat Healy, who said as the mother of two, she is afraid for her children and for other children.

"There's no way to protect them" she said, "We have no Megan's Law against priests."

Also speaking Friday were Pat and Lou Serrrano of Mendham whose son Mark had been sexually abused by the Rev. Jim Hanley; Carlos Martin, director of Voice of the Faithful in New York City; and the Rev. Ken Lasch of HOST (Healing Our Survivors Together) and pastor emeritus of St. Joseph's Church in Mendham.

"Father Ruane murdered your childhood," Lou Serrano told Iatesta. "These pedophiles, especially those in the clergy, are murderers.''

Near tears, Iatesta said quietly, "He did. He took away my childhood."

Aretakis noted that in addition to ending the secrecy that protects abusive priests, there was also a need to protect the church.

"We all love the church," he said. But, he said, it's like a family that has to take control of the member who has gone wrong.

Father Gerald Ruane was a parish priest, a college professor and campus minister as well as chaplain to the Caldwell Dominican Sisters. He was ordained in 1960 and involved in the Cursillo movement since 1966 and the charismatic renewal since 1969. He began his healing ministry in 1975 and founded the Sacred Heart Institute in 1979.

He also served as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Westfield.

 
 

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