Numerous Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse File Lawsuits against Diocese of Trenton
By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman
June 12, 2020
|Mercer County Civil Courthouse in Trenton at 175 S. Broad St.|
TRENTON — The Diocese of Trenton is facing numerous lawsuits alleging it failed time and again to prevent the sexual abuse of children.
These civil-action complaints in Mercer County Superior Court are a microcosm of the widespread sex abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.
“It’s an epidemic in the Catholic Church, and it has been going on for centuries,” attorney John W. Baldante told The Trentonian in an interview. “The Catholic Church has largely ignored this behavior.”
Baldante represents at least 10 plaintiffs in lawsuits accusing the Diocese of Trenton of negligence, saying the institution failed to provide a safe environment and protective culture to children and other parishioners within the churches, sacristies, schools, rectories and other facilities overseen by the diocese.
Airing its dirty laundry, the Diocese of Trenton last year publicly identified 31 former clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of a minor.
“Anyone who was sexually victimized as a minor by a priest or deacon of the Diocese of Trenton is strongly encouraged to participate in the IVCP,” the diocese says on its website, referring to the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program that compensates eligible victims who were sexually abused while minors by clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Baldante says the IVCP initiative is a “thinly veiled effort to settle atrocities cheaply.”
All of Baldante’s clients demand more than $50 million in damages for the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of former Trenton-area priests.
“When a child is sexually abused they are diminished,” Baldante said. “The humanity is diminished; their self-worth is diminished.”
“This process,” he said of the litigation, “is to really force the church to respect them as a person, to restore the self-esteem, and to restore the humanity.”
Two of Baldante’s cases highlight the abusive ways of Francis M. McGrath, 69, a former Diocese of Trenton priest at Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Hamilton and an ex-teacher at McCorristin Catholic High School, now known as Trenton Catholic Academy.
McGrath has been credibly accused of sexual abuse on multiple victims and was removed from ministry, according to the diocese’s accountability list.
McGrath previously molested a 17-year-old boy on four separate occasions inside his rectory bedroom at St. Anthony’s in 1983, according to one of the lawsuits, which says the ex-priest exposed his penis and masturbated in front of the victim before fondling the victim and performing oral sex on him.
Known as Father McGrath, the ex-priest in 1978 sexually abused an 11-year-old altar boy on multiple occasions and in multiple venues, including his car and the rectory and sacristy of the church, according to another lawsuit, which says McGrath penetrated the victim’s rectum with his fingers on approximately eight occasions.
Another lawsuit exposes Gregory Vaughan, a former priest at St. Raphael’s in Hamilton and one of the Diocese of Trenton’s ex-clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse against minors. Before being removed from ministry, Vaughan anally penetrated an 8-year-old altar boy in 1987 on multiple occasions and forced the victim into performing oral sex thereafter, the complaint alleges.
Douglas Hermansen, a former Notre Dame High School chaplain also known as Father Doug, has been credibly accused of sexual abuse on one minor and is newly accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a 15-year-old altar boy in 1975 well before becoming an ordained priest in 1979. Hermansen is currently removed from ministry. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Mercer County Superior Court, alleges Hermansen anally penetrated the victim more than 100 times.
Four lawsuits mention the sexual exploits of the late Frank Iazetta, a former Notre Dame High faculty member credibly accused of sexual abuse on multiple victims. Iazetta, who died in 2007, molested minors in the 1970s, including the act of touching and massaging the vagina of a 7-year-old girl in 1975, according to one of the lawsuits.
Two additional lawsuits describe the debauchery of the late Ronald Becker, a former Diocese of Trenton priest credibly accused of sexual abuse on multiple victims. Becker, who died in 2009, targeted boys in the 1970s and ’80s, according to the complaints.
The Trentonian generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
A Diocese of Trenton spokesperson had no comment for this story, saying: “We don’t comment on matters of litigation. Thank you.”
Baldante, who represents at least 10 plaintiffs suing the Diocese of Trenton, said the Catholic Church should have known about the widespread sexual abuse on children and should have stopped it well before the 21st century.
“They created this environment,” he said Tuesday in an interview. “The Catholic Church has known for centuries their priests were sexually abusing children and did absolutely nothing to change the situation and protect those children.”
State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in September 2018 formed the Clergy Abuse Task Force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey.
Former priest Thomas P. Ganley, 65, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence at the Central Reception and Assignment Facility after admitting he sexually assaulted a teenage girl in the early 1990s. The Clergy Abuse Task Force secured his guilty plea last year.
Lawrence Township resident Brendan Williams, who appears on the list of credibly accused clergy, has been arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault last September on allegations he molested an underage girl in the late 1990s.
The New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force filed the criminal case against Williams, who has been removed from ministry and formally laicized by the church.
Victims of Catholic Church sex crimes in New Jersey may contact the Clergy Abuse Hotline at (855) 363-6548.