In Wake of Mccarrick Sex Scandal, NJ Woman Recounts Alleged Abuse by Another Former Metuchen Diocese Priest
By Nick Muscavage
Bridgewater Courier News
August 1, 2018
When Susan Bisaha heard Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was suspended for sexual abuse allegations, she knew what she had to do: Share her story.
Bisaha, a former Fords resident and Diocese of Metuchen congregant, said she was sexually abused by a priest in Central Jersey for nearly a decade.
Some of the instances of alleged abuse, which she said numbered more than 100, occurred in a room down the hall from McCarrick in the rectory of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, where he was serving as bishop at the time.
“My story dates back to 1979,” Bisaha said. “From 1979 to 1987 I was molested by Rev. Mark Dolak.”
Bisaha, born in 1966, was 13 when the alleged abuse began. It wouldn’t come to an end until she was in her early 20s, she said.
“At the time McCarrick was the Bishop of Metuchen, he was in the same residence as Dolak,” Bisaha said. “There were many, many times where we would walk right past the bishop’s room and get snuck in.”
She said when she heard about the allegations of sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy at the hands of McCarrick nearly five decades ago, her mouth “just dropped.” McCarrick, who has been the subject of subsequent sexual abuse allegations from other men, resigned from the College of Cardinals last week.
When called and asked for a comment for this article, Dolak responded by saying, "I'm sorry, I can't talk to you. Thank you." And then he hung up the phone.
|Susan Bisaha recounts her experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest. (Photo: Mike Deak/Staff Photo)|
The Rev. Mark Dolak was transferred around the Diocese of Metuchen multiple times.
He began at Our Lady of Peace in Fords, where Bisaha went to Catholic school, and then moved onto St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen. Dolak was then assigned to St. Thomas the Apostle in Old Bridge before he was made an administrator St. John the Evangelist in Dunellen. Dolak's last assignment was as the pastor of St. Matthias in Somerset.
In 2003, the Diocese of Metuchen settled allegations of sexual abuse from 10 people. The agreement was for $800,000 and settled claims against Monsignor Michael Cashman; the Rev. John Banko; Fr. Michael Santillo; the Rev. John Butler; and Dolak.
The settlement came with no admission of guilt.
More than 10 years before the 2003 settlement, however, allegations against Dolak caused the Diocese of Metuchen to settle with another victim. This settlement, which came in 1991, was much less than the $800,000 paid out in 2003. And in this settlement, Bisaha was the victim alleging abuse.
In the 1991 settlement, the diocese agreed to pay $15,000 to Bisaha for her claims of abuse at the hands of Dolak. The settlement, like the one in 2003, came with no admission of guilt by the diocese. Once the attorney’s fees and other costs were accounted for, Bisaha received about $12,000.
She said she didn't want the money outright and rather the money go towards her counseling, but said the church only gave her the option of the settlement so she agreed.
At the time, no one close to Bisaha knew anything of the abuse she had endured. She didn’t talk about it.
“This is something a lot of people don’t understand. It’s not so simple as, ‘Oh, gee I realize this is wrong,’ ” she said. “There is a lot of grooming that goes on with this. For all these years, he would tell me God said it was okay, this is love, and all that stuff.”
According to Erin Friedlander, the director of communications and public relations for the Diocese of Metuchen, Dolak was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Trenton in 1979, and became a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen at the time the Diocese was established in 1981.
|The rectory of St. Francis of Assisi, where Susan Bisaha said she was abused by a priest more than 30 years ago. (Photo: Nick Muscavage/Staff Photo)|
"He served at various parishes as associate pastor and also as pastor at one parish," Friedlander said. "In 1990, when Susan brought her complaint about him to the diocese, he was sent away for evaluation and treatment and returned to the diocese in a restricted ministry in an administrative position, but it appears he was allowed to assist in a limited way with public Masses at parishes."
She said that Dolak was permanently removed from priestly ministry and suspended in 1998 when two further allegations of abuse were received by the diocese about him.
"There are no other accusations that have been received about him," she said.
Dolak is listed on an online public database maintaining a running list of priests and other clergy accused of sexual misconduct or wrongdoing. The list, titled Database of Publicly Accused Priests in the United States, is hosted on BishopAccountability.com.
In addition, Friedlander said the diocese has "no record showing Mark having lived with then-Bishop McCarrick at the Cathedral."
"Their rooms were definitely next to each other," Bisaha maintained. "They both lived there."
Dolak began abusing Bisaha after her father had been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, she alleged.
“He knew that,” Bisaha said of Dolak, “and he used that to his advantage.”
Bisaha, now 52 and working as a psychotherapist, has written a book about her life titled “The Power to Choose: One Survivor's Story,” which she describes as an autobiography. In the book, she details instances of alleged abuse at the hands of a man named Fr. Marcus, but told My Central Jersey in her first public interview that this character represents Dolak and the scenes in the book depict what she experienced.
In one scene, Bisaha describes the priest lying down on his stomach, unzipping his pants and pulling down his underwear. He would make her massage his inner thighs while he gyrating his hips and, according to the book, would tell her “you are such a good girl.”
In another instance, Bisaha wrote about her acceptance into college. As a gift, her parents bought her a gold crucifix ring. Driving in the car with the character representing Dolak, Bisaha asked the priest to bless her ring.
He lifted his hand and motioned the sign of the cross over the ring while emphatically saying a prayer. “No sooner did he bless my ring than he slid that same hand between my legs,” she wrote. “I guess that hand had done worse.”
After her father died, Bisaha decided to approach the leaders of the Diocese of Metuchen about her experiences.
By this time, McCarrick had become the archbishop of Newark, so she spoke to Bishop Edward Hughes.
|Cardinal Theodore McCarrick lays hands on The Most Rev. James Francis Checchio at his Episcopal Ordination and Installation as the fifth Bishop of Metuchen in May 2016. (Photo: ~File)|
“When I went Bishop Hughes, Bishop Hughes wanted me and Dolak to sit down and try to work it out, which is really pretty comical if you think about it,” Bisaha said. “When I told him that I didn’t want to do that, his exact words to me were, ‘He’s a man and men do these things.’ ”
She believed the bishop’s proposition to be fruitless, so she decided to find an attorney. But three decades ago, it was difficult to find a lawyer willing to handle clergy abuse cases, she said.
Eventually, she found an attorney willing to handle the case, who later settled her case against the Diocese of Metuchen for the $15,000.
The settlement stated that she could not discuss its terms, which she described as feeling like a “noose around her neck.” But in a correspondence with the Diocese of Metuchen in 2003, Bishop Paul Bootkosi told Bisaha that the settlement agreement "does not prevent you from discussing with anyone your allegations against Father Dolak."
Decades ago, Bisaha said, people were not discussing clergy abuse as much as they are today. She said she had nothing to compare her experiences to, and at the time, Dolak would make the abuse feel normalized.
“Nobody in my family knew about this,” she said. “I know this sounds crazy too, but nobody in my family knew.”
Dolak called Bisaha his “special girl,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to be someone’s special something?”
He also offered her alcoholic beverages many times, she recalled.
“The drinking that went along with this was ridiculous,” she said. “He would have us making drinks, he would have making the monsignor drinks.”
She recalls drinking as young as 13, oftentimes consuming straight Scotch whisky while in Dolak’s private quarters.
“When I was 13 he had us make what he called ‘monsignor’s special coffee,’” she said. “This was at Our Lady of Peace when I first met him and he taught us how to make coffee with whisky.”
The drinking would take place in the early afternoon, she said, adding that she has many memories of Dolak with a drink in his hand. She said the alleged abuse occurred around different parishes within the Diocese of Metuchen, including in sacristies and while on retreats.
She said this included rectories and sacristies of Our Lady of Peace in Fords, St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, St. Thomas the Apostle in Old Bridge, and St. Matthias in Somerset. But most of the abuse took place in Dolak's private quarters.
“I worked in the rectory,” Bisaha said. “Most of what happened to me happened inside the rectory, up in his private bedroom.”
|Susan Bisaha posing with her book, which details her accounts of sexual abuse growing up. (Photo: Mike Deak/Staff Photo)|
Today, Bisaha lives in Ocean Township. For years, she has lived within one mile of Dolak, who lives in Asbury Park.
Dolak according to online documents, works as an acute care family support specialist for Monmouth Medical Center, which is a part of RWJ Barnabas Health. A family support specialist is someone who offers social services to individuals and families to improve their lives.
When asked if Monmouth Medical Center and RWJ Barnabas Health were aware of these allegations made against Dolak and if a background check was conducted before hiring him, RWJ Barnabas Health declined to comment, citing policy that prohibits commenting on information regarding its employees.
"It is against our policy to provide employment history or personal information to the public about our employees," said Elizabeth Brennan, regional director of marketing and public relations at RWJ Barnabas Health.
He lists Monmouth Medical Center as his place of employment on his bankruptcy filings, as well.
In his filing for bankruptcy, Dolak, who is 65, said he owned a Cadillac and a 22-foot boat.
Robert Ciolek, a former priest who has recently come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal McCarrick, said he has been around Dolak many times and noticed his behavior to be out of the ordinary.
Although their encounters took place decades ago and he has never witnessed or heard of Dolak abusing anyone until now, Ciolek said the priest's behavior "stood out" and that he was overly enthusiastic when it came to working with youth.
|Monmouth Medical Center|
"He certainly stood out among other priests in several respects," Ciolek said. "Certainly, I have found that when I got to know him further that there was an extreme immaturity and inappropriateness about how he acted."
Ciolek described the Dolak's alcohol habits as "free-flowing" when he was around children and teens, but doesn't recall seeing the priest serve alcohol to people. He also said he could not confirm if McCarrick had any knowledge of who Dolak was bringing to his room in the rectory. Still, he said, the priest's behavior seemed very juvenile for his age.
"It was as if he was trying to be one of them or act like one of them," Ciolek said. "His humor was sometimes off-color and sexual. I also observed he was the type who would often over indulge in alcohol around younger people, including Susan and others in the youth group."
Robert Hoatson, a former priest who is now an expert in clergy abuse and advocate for victims, said it isn't unusual for priests to offer alcoholic beverages to victims.
Hoatson has never interacted with Dolak, but said sexual abuse also has to do with a power hierarchy.
"Remember now that sexual abuse, the sexual part of it, is just a symptom," Hoatson said. "The real aberration of child sexual abuse, or any sexual abuse, is that it's an abuse of power first."
|St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral (Photo: Nick Muscavage/Staff Photo)|
Friedlander, the spokesperson for the diocese, said the diocese has strong policies in place regarding harassment, discrimination and boundary violations. As part of the general practice in the diocese, she said, leadership roles in the parish, school and ministry undergo training on recognizing and reporting such incidents.
In response to the allegations made against McCarrick, who resigned from the College of Cardinals last week, Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen James Checchio recently said, “The abuse of anyone who is vulnerable is both shameful and horrific,” adding that “the abuse of a minor by a priest is an abomination and sickens and saddens us all.”
The Diocese also said Bishop Checchio "certainly would welcome a conversation with Susan."
Bisaha, however, said she isn't interested with speaking to Checchio.
"I have no need," she said. "What's done is done."
Bisaha struggled emotionally long after the alleged abuse stopped, she said.
She attempted by driving her car into a divider on a highway.
"I tried to kill myself twice," she said. "I drank so much that I aimed for the parkway divider on two separate occasions."
Now, however, Bisaha feels empowered to tell her story, she said. She wants to take control and make her own choices, and perhaps her choice could help others.
"This could lead to salvation for somebody," she said.
In breaking her silence and going public with her experience, Bisaha hopes it will inspire others to speak up and seek help.
“Secrets and silence can kill, especially secrets of sexual abuse. And if they don’t kill you outright, they slowly and gradually fester inside you causing physical and emotional destruction,” Bisaha said. “I have seen it and lived it. It is a lifetime of hell.”
Staff Writer Nick Muscavage: 908-243-6615; firstname.lastname@example.org