Lists of NJ priests accused of sexual abuse has some notable omissions
By Abbott Koloff
North Jersey Record
February 16, 2019
|George Trabold was listed by the church as having been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.|
|Memorial to victims of sex abuse by priests outside St. Joseph Church in Mendham. Feb. 13, 2019|
Photo by William Westhoven
|Father Kevin Gugliotta was included on the Newark Archdiocese list because of a child pornography arrest. But the list did not indicate that he had been suspended from ministry after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor before he became a priest.|
|Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Paterson on Wednesday, February 13, 2019.|
Photo by Michael Karas
Advocates for children abused by priests say the lists bearing the names of nearly 200 accused clergy members that were released last week only hinted at a larger problem that they expect to be brought to light after a state grand jury reviews more detailed records.
The disclosure of 188 names by New Jersey's five Catholic dioceses was prompted by a statewide criminal investigation, and Church leaders emphasized that the lists, which were released Wednesday, included only a narrowly defined group: clerics who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.
The restrictions omitted priests of religious orders who were ordained by local bishops and have been accused of sexually abusing children in diocesan churches. The lists didn't include anyone accused of abusing young adults after they turned 18.
One priest whose name was not on the list stepped down from an Essex County parish in 2014 after a decades-old allegation of abuse surfaced stemming from his time in Bergen County. Church officials said it raised "grave concerns."
And an unknown number of records from the Paterson Diocese were destroyed decades ago, making it impossible to know how many abuse cases were not counted from before that time.
On Wednesday, the state's five dioceses — Newark, Paterson, Metuchen, Camden and Trenton — released lists of priests and deacons credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. The release marked the culmination of internal reviews conducted in response to a state law enforcement investigation.
The state Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, said in a statement that he was "pleased to see that our task force’s grand jury investigation has prompted the dioceses to finally take some measures to hold predator priests accountable." He noted that the state had been receiving hundreds of calls to a tip line, indicating "that there are many others who were abused as children and as adults."
An accusation from Bergenfield
One name notably absent from the Newark Archdiocese list was Monsignor George Trabold, who stepped down from from St. Rose of Lima parish in the Short Hills section of Millburn in 2014.
"I have no idea why he's not on the list," said Greg Gianforcaro, the attorney who represented a man who accused Trabold of abusing him when he was a child.
Maria Margiotta, a spokeswoman for the Newark Archdiocese, said in an email that the allegations against Trabold "are the subject of a Church or canonical trial, which is not yet concluded."
Trabold stepped down from his ministry in 2014, with church officials making announcements during Sunday services at two parishes where he had worked — St. Rose of Lima and St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield.
Gianforcaro said that the allegations stem from the mid-1970s when Trabold was stationed in Bergenfield, and that they involved the sexual abuse of a minor. The accuser, he said, received a monetary settlement in 2016.
The Archdiocese sent Gianforcaro a letter in October 2015 saying that "there was sufficient evidence to support [the accuser's] allegation." The letter said Trabold "remains on leave of absence and the question of his future ministry is being addressed through the canonical process."
Church law allows for priests to request a church trial, known as a canonical trial.
"At this time, I am unable to provide any indication as to how long this process will take," an Archdiocese official wrote in the 2015 letter.
Weeks later, church officials sent letters to the Bergenfield and Short Hills parishes saying that a review board had determined that the allegations against Trabold "cause some grave concerns" and that it had had recommended a "formal Canonical proceeding to consider the facts."
Almost 3 1/2 years later, that process continues.
Religious orders are omitted
Margiotta wrote in an email that some names were left off the list because of "civil litigation as to certain claims of clergy sexual abuse of minors."
"None of the disclosures on this list pertain to any claim in active litigation," she wrote, adding that the list would be amended after "litigation matters conclude and/or investigations are completed."
There were other names that victims' advocates believed should be on the list.
For example, the Paterson Diocese review board determined years ago that allegations against a priest who had been accused of fondling a minor did not "meet the definition of sexual abuse as stated in the Dallas Charter," a reference to a 2002 agreement by U.S. bishops to remove from ministry any priest who is credibly accused of sexually abusing a child.
The priest, who has since retired, according to the diocese website, was returned to ministry at the time. The diocese later paid his accuser as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by two dozen people against multiple clergy members.
Advocates also noted that the names of clergy members affiliated with religious orders have not been released, leaving a large number of accused priests yet to be revealed.
Last year, a letter to alumni and others affiliated with the Delbarton School in Morris Township revealed that 13 monks from St. Mary's Abbey, which runs the school, had been accused of sexually abusing 30 people over the past three decades.
That letter was sent after NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey published a story about St. Mary's settling five lawsuits involving its monks, with other suits pending. The names of some of the priests are available in publicly filed lawsuits. But the abbey did not identify them.
One of those priests, Timothy Brennan, has been the subject of multiple lawsuit settlements and was convicted 30 years ago of aggravated sexual contact with a 15-year-old Delbarton student.
Gianforcaro, who has represented some of Brennan's accusers, said the priest, a former guidance counselor at Delbarton, had been working at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Linden, a Newark Archdiocese church, when he allegedly abused some of his clients.
Gianforcaro said "it makes no sense" that order priests were not on the list.
However, church officials said orders are responsible for disciplining their members. Margiotta wrote in an email that while religious order priests "may serve within the boundaries of the Archdiocese and are canonically accountable to the Archbishop, these priests, and the places where they serve, are overseen by the religious superior of their communities."
St. Mary's Abbey did not say last week whether it would release the names of accused priests. "We are evaluating processes related to the release of names and will make a decision when that is completed," the statement said.
Priest's reinstatement 'came as a shock'
The lists were incomplete in other ways.
The Newark Archdiocese included a priest on its list who had been removed from ministry after being charged with possession of child pornography at his vacation home in Pennsylvania. The priest, Kevin Gugliotta, told probation officers that he collected the pornography to get "revenge" on God for his poker losses, according to records.
But the information included with the Newark Archdiocese list did not indicate that Gugliotta stepped down from ministry after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor 13 years before the child pornography arrest. The accusation, lodged in 2003, involved abuse that was alleged to have occurred in the 1980s, before Gugliotta was ordained as a priest.
The Archdiocese reinstated Gugliotta in 2004, ruling that he could not be punished because the abuse was alleged to have occurred before he became a priest.
Gianforcaro said he accompanied the accuser when he went to the Newark Archdiocese with the allegations. Gugliotta had been a friend of the accuser's family, and the abuse occurred in several places, including Ocean and Sussex counties, the attorney said.
The accuser wasn't seeking compensation from the church because it wasn't responsible for Gugliotta before he became a priest, Gianforcaro said.
"We felt that the Archdiocese should be warned about one of their priests," Gianforcaro said. "My client's claims were extremely well-received, which is why it came as a shock that he was returned to ministry."
Gianforcaro said he was told Gugliotta had been suspended at some point but that he does not remember where he was serving at the time. He said he learned in 2016, after Gugliotta was arrested on child pornography charges, that he had been reinstated years earlier.
"It was only because of his arrest that we learned he was returned to ministry," Gianforcaro said.
Margiotta said in an email that Gugliotta "is currently being monitored and supervised by the state authorities in Pennsylvania as a result of his conviction."
The priest was working at Holy Spirit parish in Union when he was arrested in 2016.
He previously worked at Immaculate Conception and at Ramapo College in Mahwah, St. Bartholomew in Scotch Plains, St. Joseph in West Orange, St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff and St. Rose of Lima in Short Hills.
At one point before the arrest, Gianforcaro said, Gugliotta was working a little more than a mile from where his client was living.
Records are destroyed
In 1978, the newly installed bishop of the Paterson Diocese made an announcement to priests attending a convocation, saying he would destroy files that were kept in a diocesan archive, according to a priest who was there.
"In essence, the priests understood he was destroying any records of any allegations against any priest," said Father Ken Lasch, a former official with the Paterson Diocese who attended the convocation.
Bishop Frank Rodimer, who died late last year, acknowledged in a deposition that he ordered the destruction of the records, which were part of a "secret archive," when he became the leader of the Paterson Diocese, the diocesan attorney, Ken Mullaney, said last week.
Mullaney said church law allows for the creation of such archives, but he did not specify what kind of records they contained. He added that he has been able to retrieve some documents from those archives as he was collecting information to give to the state Attorney General's Office to comply with a subpoena.
"There are records there, and those records will be produced," he said.
The bishop acknowledged ordering the destruction of the records while he was being deposed under oath for a lawsuit, Mullaney said. He did not specify which lawsuit. In 2004, the diocese paid $5 million to more than two dozen people who had alleged that they had been abused by clergy members, settling a lawsuit before it went to trial.
Mullaney said he also is reviewing "boxes filled with personnel records" that date to the founding of the diocese.