Diocese of Trenton Faces More Lawsuits in Childhood Sex Abuse Scandal
By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman
August 13, 2020
|Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Trenton.|
TRENTON — Already embroiled in litigation, the Diocese of Trenton has been freshly accused of negligence for its failure to prevent childhood sex abuse.
Three lawsuits filed in Mercer County Superior Court on Thursday allege the diocese had “negligently retained” child-molesting priests who “posed a dangerous condition” toward youthful parishioners on church property.
These priests include former clergy members Ronald R. Becker, Douglas U. Hermansen and Joseph F. McHugh, men previously identified by the Diocese of Trenton as sexual predators.
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Becker, who died in 2009, previously had assignments at the Incarnation Church in Ewing and Holy Angels in Hamilton. He “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with a 12-year-old “vulnerable child” in 1982, according to the allegations in a plaintiff’s lawsuit.
McHugh, now deceased, previously had assignments at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade and Saint Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in Hamilton Square. From approximately 1980 to 1982, McHugh molested a child aged 10 to 12, according to the allegations in another plaintiff’s lawsuit.
McHugh also pleaded guilty to third-degree endangering the welfare of a child by sexual conduct in 2005, receiving five years of probation at his 2006 sentencing hearing in Monmouth County Superior Court, records show.
Hermansen, an ex-priest removed from ministry, previously had assignments at St. Raphael in Hamilton, St. Rose of Lima in Freehold and as a chaplain at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence. From approximately 1985 to 1986, Hermansen is accused of sexual abuse on a child aged 12 to 13, according to a separate lawsuit filed by a third plaintiff.
The Diocese of Trenton last year publicly identified 31 former clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of a minor, including Becker, Hermansen and McHugh.
Greg Gianforcaro, the attorney who filed three separate civil-action complaints against the Diocese of Trenton on Thursday on behalf of three childhood sexual abuse victims, said his clients “are going to require counseling, therapy for the rest of their lives, and they did nothing to deserve that.”
“We are looking for accountability,” he added. “They are looking to get their voice back, and they are looking for accountability.”
Gianforcaro previously represented the victim in McHugh’s criminal case.
“Being involved at that sentencing,” he said Thursday in an interview with The Trentonian, “I can tell you it was an emotional day for my client and his family and it absolutely meant a lot to them that McHugh was being convicted. That was a big day.”
“There is no doubt that there are many many more McHugh, Hermansen and Becker victims out there, no doubt,” Gianforcaro alleged, “especially when it comes to Becker and McHugh.”
In the civil complaints filed Thursday, the plaintiffs all claim to have suffered “sustained physical, emotional, and psychological injuries, along with pain and suffering.”
The plaintiffs demand a trial by jury and monetary damages.
Another attorney, John W. Baldante, represents at least 10 plaintiffs in active 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.
The diocese does not comment on matters of litigation.
These civil-action complaints in Mercer County Superior Court are a microcosm of the widespread sex abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.