Archdiocese of Newark, 6 Alleged Sexual Abuse Victims Reach 6-Figure Settlement, Priest Forced to Retire
By Kevin Manahan
July 14, 2012
|A street view of St. Philomena Church in Livingston where Rev. John J. Laferrera was accused of sexually abusing six boys in the 1970s and 1980s.|
NEWARK — When five men filed a lawsuit in March 2011, alleging they were sexually abused by the Rev. John Laferrera as youngsters, the monsignor of St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church in Livingston took a voluntary leave of absence and pledged to use all of his energy to clear his name.
In a letter to his congregation, Laferrera vowed to prove his innocence and blamed his sabbatical on "many in the public" who "take any statement at face value, especially if it's lurid."
But the Archdiocese of Newark quietly reached a six-figure settlement with six alleged victims last month and Laferrera, 65, was stripped of his collar and sent into retirement, The Star-Ledger has learned.
"He is no longer administering," archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness said Friday. "He is out of the ministry. Aside from that, I can't provide any more discussion."
Goodness refused to say whether Laferrera remains eligible to collect a pension.
The alleged victims — the sixth joined the suit after it was filed — hailed the archdiocese's action as vindication.
"They were forced to get rid of him, even if they did it in a round-about way," said Samuel Rivera, one of the plaintiffs. "The settlement says they believed us, not him."
Attempts to reach Laferrera were unsuccessful. When the lawsuit was filed, Laferrera declined to speak with a Star-Ledger reporter and referred all inquiries to the archdiocese.
Samuel Rivera and his brother, Daniel, both of whom live in Newark, said they told the Archdiocese Review Board in June 2011 that Laferrera sexually abused in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while they were altar boys at Immaculate Conception Parish in Newark, where Laferrera was pastor.
Samuel Rivera, 46, said Laferrera would force his head into the priest's lap when Laferrera drove them to a racquetball court. He also said he told the panel he believed he was drugged and raped by Laferrera while at a home at the Jersey Shore.
Daniel Rivera, 42, said he was a victim of fondling and "inappropriate behavior" and was forced to sleep with Laferrera at the shore house when he was 12.
Another plaintiff, Angel Nieves, 44, said Laferrera would "stick his hands down my pants" when he was a 12-year-old altar boy.
The six men — some of whom have remained anonymous — will share approximately $300,000, plus additional money for counseling, Phillipsburg attorney Greg Gianforcaro said. He said his clients agreed to the settlement "which may have been on the low end" because several of them wanted to move on with their lives.
The settlement contains no admission of guilt by Laferrera or the archdiocese "but as any settlement, it speaks for itself," Gianforcaro said. He called Laferrera's dismissal "telling."
"He said he was going to clear his name," Gianforcaro said. "It would appear as though he's changed his position."
Laferrera was ordained in 1973 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark. He ministered at Immaculate Conception for 14 years, before moving to St. Francis Xavier Church in Newark from 1987 to 1991. He served as pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell from 1992 to 2004, then joined St. Philomena.
The Rev. Bob Hoatson, who heads Road to Recovery, an advocacy group for victims of clergy sex abuse, said the archdiocese is negotiating settlements with two other men who have alleged sex abuse by Laferrera. Hoatson said more than a dozen men have made allegations of sexual misconduct against Laferrera, some choosing not to join the lawsuit.
In 2009, Ernest Fabregas, formerly of Newark and now living in Toms River, was the first to make allegations against Laferrera. The archdiocese review board said his testimony provided "insufficient information to substantiate" his allegations, and it refused to recommend any disciplinary action against Laferrera.
But Hoatson said Fabregas' story, told in the media, brought other victims forward and the weight of their testimony eventually tipped the scales.
"This proves review boards are a farce," Hoatson said. "When there was just one victim, they dismissed his testimony and thought they could get away with it. And had there been only one victim, they would have succeeded."
Fabregas, 48, said Friday he feels "vindicated" by the settlement, but criticized the behavior of archdiocese officials and their hardball approach. He said he has never recovered from the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Laferrera and other priests.
"It's a ridiculously low amount of money, but they throw it at you and say, 'Take it or leave it,'" he said. "I would've preferred to fight on, but that would have kept some of the others from getting the money and counseling they needed and wanted. They were tired of dealing with the church."
Hoatson called the archdiocese's offer a "travesty."
"Imagine poor immigrant families trying to start over with $50,000 for each victim," he said. "Now imagine Laferrera at his shore house, collecting his pension."