Suit Claims Sexual Abuse by Priests at Mendham Church
By Phil Garber
December 9, 2019
MENDHAM – The first lawsuit alleging clergy sexual abuse under the state’s extended statute of limitations was filed by a former parishioner of St. Joseph Church against two former priests who have admitted to sexually abusing children for decades.
The unidentified victim claims he was a minor when he was sexually abused by the Rev. James Hanley and the Rev. Thomas Rainforth, both previously associated with St. Joseph Church, and by a third priest, the Rev. John Pisarcik.
Pisarcik, now 74, and Hanley, now 83, have previously admitted to sexually abusing many boys in New Jersey over three decades. Rainforth died in 2019.
The lawsuits claims negligence against the Catholic Diocese of Paterson, St. Joseph’s, Bayley Ellard High School, St. Francis Health Resort and the Sisters of Sorrowful Mother religious order, which owned and operated the St. Francis Health resort in Denville. The lawsuit was announced on Dec. 4 in press conference at the Marriott Saddle Brook by attorneys Jeff Anderson of Minnesota and Greg Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg.
“In the past, victims of child sex abuse had to jump through hurdles to explain delays in filing lawsuits,” said Gianforcaro. “With this case, unlike in the past, there is no statute of limitations as an impediment. That gargantuan impediment is no longer there.”
The new Victim’s Rights Bill, went into effect on Dec. 4. It extends the statute of limitations and provides a two-year window for sexual abuse survivors to bring lawsuits in cases that were previously barred by the statute of limitations, no matter when the abuse occurred or the age of the survivor.
In the past, victims had to file lawsuits within two years of when they connected the abuse and the damages done. But victims often do not understand the impacts of the abuse until many years later when they have become involved in drugs or even suicide.
The survivor claims he was sexually abused as a minor by Hanley and Rainforth at St. Joseph parish from around 1974-77. He claims he was similarly abused by Pisarcik at Bayley Ellard High School in Madison and St. Francis Health Resort in Denville, from 1978-1990, when he was was 15 to 27 years old.
Pisarcik was arrested in 1991 while still a priest and charged with sexually assaulting boys. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years at a treatment center. He was removed from the ministry in 1991. His whereabouts are unknown, Gianforcaro said.
The Diocese of Paterson is believed to have received a report in 1985 that Hanley sexually abused a boy while he was a priest at St. Joseph’s from 1973-1982. The diocese reportedly removed Hanley from ministry but did not inform law enforcement. Hanley was laicized in 2003. He admitted in a sworn statement that he sexually abused 21 boys from 1968-1982, many of them from Mendham and elsewhere in Morris County. His whereabouts also are unknown.
Rainforth was previously alleged to have sexually abused a boy in 1975 while he was a priest at St. Joseph’s. Rainforth died in 2019. Rainforth was accused in 2002 of sexually abusing boys in the 1980s during an overnight stay at the priest’s lake house in Sparta. A Paterson Diocese review board determined that the allegation didn’t meet the church’s definition of sexual abuse.
Gianforcaro has represented more than two dozen victims of Hanley who settled because the statute of limitation had expired. He said he expects there will be others who will sue.
The suit demands that Bishop Arthur Serratelli fully disclose the identities, histories and whereabouts of all clergy accused of child sexual abuse who worked in the diocese, including the whereabouts of Pisarcik and Hanley.
“That is a remedy that money can’t buy,” Gianforcaro said. “I anticipate there will be dozens and dozens of future cases.”
Among those attending the news conference was Pat Serrano of Mendham, whose son, Mark, was a Hanley victim and the first person to speak about the abuse, violating a confidentiality agreement with the Catholic Church.
Another person at the news conference was Matt Kelly of Morristown. Three of his brothers were abused by Hanley, including James Kelly who committed suicide in 2003. Another brother, John, was abused by Rainforth and died of a drug overdose
In a related matter, Timothy Brennan, another former priest named for sexually abusing children, has died. Gianforcaro said he did not mourn Brennan’s death.