It took 30 years but William P. Wolfe can finally speak openly about the time he was sexually abused by a priest at the Delbarton School.
“I feel like I’m walking on air,” Wolfe, 44, said on Friday after the school agreed to lift a gag order on Wolfe stemming from a 1988 settlement with the school.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have the ability not to live secretly about what happened to me,” said Wolfe, an information technology specialist who is married with no children and lives in Boulder, Color. “Nobody who has gone through abuse should be prevented from talking about it.”
The agreement was announced on Friday in Superior Court in Morristown. Wolfe, who was raised in Morristown, spoke about his reactions in the office of his lawyer, Gregory Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg.
Wolfe was 14 when he was sexually abused by the Rev. Timothy Brennan, who pleaded guilty in 1987 to criminal sexual contact. Brennan was given a six month sentence at a facility for clergy sex offenders.
The school later settled a lawsuit with Wolfe and paid him an undisclosed sum. As part of the agreement, Wolfe promised not to discuss the suit.
Two years ago, Wolfe filed a suit in Superior Court in Morristown under the name of “John Doe” requesting the gag order be withdrawn.
On Friday, Delbarton agreed to allow Wolfe to discuss the assault but he still is barred from disclosing the financial terms of the settlement.
Wolfe said the abuse by Brennan has haunted him.
“I wasn’t able to live up to my potential,” Wolfe said. “It just never goes away but you become a survivor by taking power back.”
Wolfe said he had at one time considered becoming a priest but that any interest ended with the abuse.
“It ripped the faith out of me,” he said. “I still don’t have my faith.”
Meanwhile, Delbarton filed a lawsuit against Gianforcaro last year, claiming the lawyer breached the confidentiality agreement in 2012 when he allegedly disclosed the amount of the settlement. The suit is pending in Superior Court.
Leading up to Friday’s settlement, Gianforcaro had argued that the gag order should be lifted because Delbarton had agreed to the principles of transparency that were put forth as part of a 2002 meeting in Dallas of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops agreed that the church should be more open about past cases of sexual abuse by priests.
Delbarton agreed to lift the gag order out of concerns for Wolfe’s ability to heal the emotional wounds of the abuse, according to Delbarton spokesman Anthony Cicatiello.
While the new settlement still bars Wolfe from disclosing the amount of money he received in the settlement, Cicatiello said the money “wasn’t part of the whole decision.”
“It was the right thing for this individual to heal,” Cicatiello said. “The healing process drove all of this. It was fundamentally about understanding this individual and what he needed.”
As to why Delbarton agreed to lift the gag order after fighting to keep it intact for so many years, Cicatiello said, “everyone is going through an evolutionary process.”
Wolfe also said his decision to sue to overturn the confidentiality agreement had nothing to do with money.
“At no time did I ask for more money,” he said. “It was about being able to talk about what happened to me.”
Wolfe said he would welcome a chance to speak with other groups and individuals about the problem of sexual abused by priests.
“If there is one person who has been drinking himself into a stupor every night, if he gets the courage to get help it would make what I did all worth it,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he was appreciative of Delbarton’s agreement to modify the gag order. It was signed by the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey, who govern Delbarton.
“They deserve credit for living up to the promise to be open and transparent,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he has been dealing with the pain of the abuse for 40 years as have many others and many have been destroyed in the aftermath of abuse.
“I would hope we can start the process of being able to heal all Catholics in northern New Jersey,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe had filed the suit to remove the gag order as a result of a 2002 story in a local newspaper that reported that Brennan had abused an unidentified victim who was 14 at the time and who had moved to Colorado. Wolfe claimed that the school’s former lawyer had released the information and that based on the story, people at the school could deduce Wolfe’s identity.
“They (Delbarton) released details contradictory to the agreement and I felt I should be able to give my side,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said his brother died in 2003 and that he was too emotionally drained to sue at the time. He did file in 2012 after reading about new accusations of sexual abuse at Delbarton and about another victim of Brennan’s who had told his story.
Gianforcaro said there were never any other motives for the suit to lift the gag order, other than Wolfe’s welfare.
“It is 100 percent about Bill and the fact that victims of child sexual abuse should never be silenced,” Gianforcaro said.