At least 3 lawsuits filed alleging predator clergy in South Jersey
By Molly Bilinski
Press of Atlantic City
December 4, 2019
Former Roman Catholic Brother Walter Hicks sexually abused a boy while the boy was in second and third grade in the late 1970s at Pleasantville’s St. Peter’s school, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Camden County Superior Court.
“I went to Catholic school for three years, and two of these years were torture,” said Michael Troiano, who is identified as John Doe in the lawsuit but spoke at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “When I would tell my family that I didn’t want to go to school and I was afraid of my abuser — I didn’t know the words to say, ‘I am being sexually violated by an adult.’ … Those words, a child doesn’t know.”
Hicks “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with Troiano, according to the suit, and officials in the Diocese of Camden should have known Hicks was not “fit to work with children” or should have learned of his “propensity to commit sexual abuse.”
At least three civil suits have been filed claiming members of the Roman Catholic Church abused minors in South Jersey and alleging negligence on the part of church leaders since Sunday, when a state law took effect allowing sex abuse victims to sue until they turn 55, or within seven years of their first realization the abuse caused them harm.
The previous limit was two years. More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the Diocese of Camden and the Archdioceses of Philadelphia and Newark so far.
“With regard to today’s lawsuit, the Diocese of Camden turned over the claim against Walter Hicks to the Atlantic County Prosecutors office in 2003,” said Michael J. Walsh, director of communications for the Diocese of Camden. “Since the time the claim was brought to our attention, the diocese has worked with the victim by providing more than $29,000 in counseling sessions and associated transportation costs. Mr. Hicks is not included on the Diocese of Camden’s list of credibly accused clergy because he was not a cleric but instead a layman affiliated with a religious order.”
Hicks has since died, but his past actions still continue to impact Troiano, said Jeff Anderson, Troiano’s attorney.
“And until this week, there was little or nothing this man, then child, could do. Now, the law allows this John Doe to come forward, and he had the courage and the will to share a long-held secret, a burden that he had carried for decades, with us,” Anderson said.
Troiano was about 7 to 9 years old and “a vulnerable child, parishioner, student and participant in church activities” while the abuse lasted from 1978 to 1980, according to the suit, which seeks a jury trial.
“I did want to come here today to put a face on my complaint,” Troiano said. “I’ve tried for years to bring accountability, bring attention to this crime and neglect and cover-up, and I can’t do it alone. I can’t do it without attorneys helping me.”
The suit also names St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield, which absorbed St. Peter’s, as well as the Brothers of Charity America District — Region of Our Lady of Charity, which runs educational children’s programs.
Two other civil lawsuits were filed Monday in Atlantic and Cape May counties alleging the church was negligent after two women, both identified as Jane Doe, were abused by priests. Both suits seek a jury trial.
A Maryland woman claims priest John P. Paul, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, sexually abused her in a hotel in Ocean City and at a retreat owned by the Brothers of the Christian Schools in the 3000 block of Central Avenue, according to one suit. The abuse started in the early 1980s, when she was a sophomore at a Pennsylvania high school, and continued into college, the lawsuit states.
The suit, filed in Cape May County Superior Court, alleges Paul “had pedophilic tendencies and posed a risk to the safety of children” and that the archdiocese was negligent in failing to identify Paul’s abuse. Paul was voluntarily laicized, or defrocked, in 2015.
The archdiocese did not respond to a request for comment.
A North Carolina woman alleges Joseph A. Rock, a priest of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, sexually abused her at age 13 after meeting her in Atlantic City, according to another suit. The abuse continued from the early 1970s for about 11 years, with Rock bringing the girl to Atlantic City twice to abuse her, as well as other cities in the state, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York, the lawsuit states.
Matt Kerr, secretary for external affairs for the diocese, said Rock was removed from the ministry in 2001.
“His file was among those turned over to the five district attorneys of the counties that make up the diocese in 2002, when the Diocese of Allentown became the first diocese in Pennsylvania to report all known perpetrators to law enforcement,” Kerr said. “The diocese then requested that Rock be laicized ... and the petition to do so was granted by the Vatican in 2005.”
The diocese will review the lawsuit when it is received, he said.