Newark Archbishop Myers Said in 2010 Bad Paperwork to Blame for His Not Seeing Abuse Complaint
By Jeff Green
August 13, 2013
[Bishop Myers deposition via BishopAccountability.org]
|From left, attorney Jeff Anderson, Joanne Ward, next to photos of son Andrew, and father David Ward during the press conference Tuesday.|
Testifying about a sexual abuse case that originated when he was the leader of an Illinois diocese, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said a complaint from a woman who said she was abused never came across his desk, and he blamed a “slipshod filing system” and a high-level official who apparently handled the matter on his own
In a lengthy 2010 deposition, Myers, who was the bishop of the Peoria Diocese for about a decade, said he never suspected that Monsignor Thomas W. Maloney was molesting children. A woman told the diocese’s vicar general in 1995 that the priest abused her as a child. But that official’s office was a block away, and paperwork on priests was sent to several different files, some that he never saw, Myers told lawyers in the deposition.
“There may have been things that got by me,” Myers said. “I underscore the kind of loose system that we had with the two different buildings in Peoria. It could be sometimes two weeks of copies that I would get when they moved them from building to building, and I sometimes didn’t have time to read them all.”
No action was taken against the priest after the woman’s complaint, and months later, an 8-year-old boy, Andrew Ward, allegedly was abused by the same priest, according to his lawsuit against the diocese.
The parents of Ward, who is now 25, announced on Tuesday a $1.35 million settlement with the diocese. Speaking during a news conference outside Myers’ chancery office Tuesday, they blamed the archbishop for not keeping the priest away from their child.
Their attorney, Jeff Anderson, said Myers must have known about the woman’s initial abuse complaint because such a matter would “always to go the top.” Parents Joanne and David Ward called for Myers to be criminally charged, and they accused him at the very least of being a lousy administrator.
“Even if you believe everything Myers has to say, he’s shown such a track record of incompetence it’s amazing the church would not relieve him from his duties,” David Ward said.
The 200-page deposition and other documents, released as part of the settlement, reveal Myers’ approach to sex abuse cases and other church practices during his time in Peoria, from keeping secret files to receiving gifts from his priests. Some records on priests, Myers said, were stored in a special section of a vault known as “the cage” that only he and two top officials could access.
It also was customary for Peoria priests to give their bishop gifts after confirmation ceremonies and during holidays, he said. According to correspondence in the Maloney files, on four occasions during the 1990s, Myers wrote the priest thank-you letters for presents of silver, gold coins, cash and the priest’s prized camera.
“I really do feel a bit squeamish about being the recipient of your much-loved camera,” Myers wrote to Maloney in 1992. “I would be very happy to hand it back and to look for one on my own. As usual, your spontaneous generosity is too much.”
One exchange of letters showed Myers dismissed a complaint of a parish mother and father who told him in 2000 about Maloney’s excursion with a young girl. The parishioners wrote that they saw the priest and a grade-school girl together in his car in the parking lot of a pharmacy one night. The girl went inside to purchase about $20 in candy and returned to his vehicle, she wrote.
It’s not certain whether any allegation of sexual abuse emerged from that purported incident.
Myers, who was bishop of Peoria from 1990 to 2001 before he was appointed Newark archbishop, told the woman in a reply letter that he was aware that Maloney was “not perfect” but that her characterizations of the “much-loved pastor” were off-base.
“I do know that Father loves people, especially young people, and that he cares for them generously,” Myers wrote. “We have never had allegations of impropriety.”
Myers said during his testimony that he did not remember his correspondence with the parishioners.
Jim Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, said if the Newark Archdiocese received such a complaint today, officials would be “concerned” and “seek an explanation.” He said it’s the church’s policy to forward all child sexual abuse complaints to prosecutors and to inform the archbishop of them.
He also said the archdiocese has a “very well-maintained” filing system.
The Maloney documents were released at a time when Myers is under fire for his handling of a recent scandal involving the Rev. Michael Fugee. Ward’s parents and victims’ advocates said Myers’ handling of Maloney bears resemblance to the case against Fugee, who was arrested in May for allegedly violating a ban on working with children.
In that case, Myers said he knew nothing of Fugee’s attendance at youth retreats throughout New Jersey, and after they were revealed in the press he demoted his top deputy, Vicar General John E. Doran.
The archbishop also has consistently downplayed allegations that Fugee groped a 13-year-old boy during play wrestling sessions while he was assistant pastor to a Wyckoff parish, saying in a recent interview with a Catholic newspaper that the activity was “ill-advised but did not rise to the level of sexual abuse.”
Fugee was found guilty of groping the boy in 2003, but his conviction was overturned three years later because of a judicial error. Instead of pursuing a second trial, prosecutors admitted Fugee into a rehabilitation program for first-time offenders and required that he and the archdiocese sign an agreement that he no longer minister to children.
The archbishop testified in his deposition that he was told about five priests who were accused of sexual abuse while he was bishop of Peoria. There were no mandatory reporting laws at that time, and he did not forward the complaints to authorities, although he said he believed he talked with police in one case.
Myers said records relating to sexual abuse were stored in the secret area of the diocese vault that only he, the chancellor and vicar general could access. When he appointed Maloney a monsignor in 1999, he ordered all of the priest’s files to be reviewed.
He testified, however, that he did not see anything in the “caged files” pertaining to Maloney and that the woman’s 1995 abuse complaint could have been kept in the vicar general’s office. The vicar general at the time, Monsignor James F. Campbell, who died in 2005, did not tell Myers about it, he said.
Anderson, the lawyer for Andrew Ward, said church officials asked Maloney, who died in 2009, about the woman’s complaint and that he denied the allegation. They did not do anything further, saying it could not be substantiated, he said.
Asked by Anderson what he thought of the woman’s complaint after reviewing it during the deposition, Myers said, “That I would have preferred an investigation.”
“Does that alarm you?” the lawyer asked.
“I am committed publicly and profoundly to the safety of children,” Myers said. “So, of course, it alarms me.”
Joanne Ward, who now lives in Michigan, alleged that Myers played a “chess game” with abusive priests, and said the abuse put her son on a “road of destruction.” She said he got into trouble at school, and became addicted to drugs.
“The church has taken my faith,” she said. “It has destroyed my family.”