Penn State, Immaculata Scandals Bring Attention to Proposed Laws
By Sergio Bichao
January 3, 2012
Kevin Waldrip was 13 years old in 1964, the year he says he was raped by a priest in Newark.
But he didn’t tell anyone.
Not even when the priest, Richard Galdon, was finally brought to justice in the 1980s for molesting more than a dozen other Catholic school boys as a Boy Scout troop chaplain. Galdon was sentenced in 1987 to 25 years in prison.
But while Waldrip followed the scandal and trial in the newspaper, rejoicing in Galdon’s “comeuppance,” it took him until just six years ago to talk about what happened to him as a boy.
“You keep it secret,” he said. “People are so embarrassed, so ashamed, you can’t bring yourself to speak to anyone — not to spouses, not to friends.”
On a bitter cold Tuesday morning, Waldrip joined three other child sex abuse victims outside Immaculata High School, where assistant basketball coach and athletic volunteer Patrick Lott was accused of setting up a camera to record boys showering together.
The group also demonstrated outside Bernardsville Middle School, where Lott serves as an assistant principal. The victims listed in the charges against Lott have all been from Immaculata.
The demonstrators belonged to Road to Recovery, a Livingston-based nonprofit support group for victims of child abuse. The group handed out fliers supporting legislation that would lift the current two-year statute of limitations for lawsuits brought by victims of child sexual abuse.
The legislation was unanimously approved by a state Senate committee late 2010 and will be considered Thursday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a prime sponsor of the Senate bill, S-2405, called the current statue of limitations “a ridiculously short period of time.”
Vitale spent years championing charitable immunity reform. His legislation, signed in 2006, stripped charitable and religious institutions of their immunity from child abuse lawsuits.
“But the statute of limitation is still a very significant barrier for those who have been abused to find justice in the civil courts,” he said.
It is not the only proposed legislation dealing with child sexual abuse.
Last month state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset, introduced a bill that would bring criminal charges against witnesses of abuse who do not report it to authorities.
The bill was in response to recent college sex abuse scandals at Pennsylvania State University and Syracuse University.
At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of raping or molesting at least eight boys between 1996 and 2009, although other victims have come forward alleging abuse as far back as the 1970s.
Penn State officials have been criticized for not bringing the allegations of abuse to the police, effectively allowing Sandusky to continue molesting children.
While Immaculata employees over the years have been tied to several sex scandals either while employed by the school or after they left, school officials have not been accused of failing to report allegations of abuse to the authorities.
Monsignor Seamus F. Brennan, the pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which oversees Immaculata and its affiliated elementary school, told parishioners Sunday that the school first learned of the allegation against Lott three weeks earlier and immediately reported them to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.
Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III, D-Middlesex, a prime sponsor of the Assembly’s version of the legislation to lift the statute of limitation, A-3622, said he would have to read Bateman’s bill.
“Anything that would stop and prevent a person from committing these heinous acts and not allow that person to continue in a high position … I would support,” he said.
“The victims (of sexual abuse) often sublimate or don’t recall the events,” he said. “Years go by, and people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even older are barred from pursuing a claim. That’s unfair.”
Legislators noted that there is some opposition to lifting the time limit. Patrick R. Brannigan, the head of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, a lobby group for state bishops, has said that lifting the limitation could mean organizations having to defend lawsuits brought by victims molested by people who have long since died.
But Vitale said the plaintiffs would still have the burden of proof.
“Organizations should have nothing to hide from if they did nothing wrong,” he said.
Road to Recovery founder and president Robert Hoatson, 59, said there shouldn’t be any limitation on the time victims have to come forward because victims suffer for life.
Hoatson, a former priest known for criticizing how the Catholic Church in the United States has handled sex abuse cases, said he was abused several times as a youngster — the most recent memory of which came to him about a month ago.
In 2005 he sued the Archdiocese of Newark for suspending him, claiming retaliation for speaking out. The suit was eventually dismissed. The Vatican last year granted his request to be laicized and leave the priesthood.
Hoatson accused Brennan of “minimizing” the accusations against Lott by saying that the charges of video recording the students are “not as bad” as sexual contact.
“Having a coach place a camera in a locker room is, as far as I’m concerned, touching their souls,” he said.
When Brennan addressed the scandal Sunday during Mass he said he did not want to be defensive.
“We are not running, not hiding from this event. We do acknowledge it. We acknowledge that we own it. We will deal with it,” he said.
Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen, said church officials would not comment on Hoatson’s statements.