Northvale Church Sued in Sex Case
By Susan Edelman
May 25, 1996
Two brothers, now in their 30s and 40s, are suing a former priest at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Northvale, accusing him of sexually abusing and assaulting them when they were children. The lawsuits, which seek more than $ 5 million in damages, also accuse the parish and the Archdiocese of Newark of failing to protect children from a priest they knew was a pedophile.
The Rev. Michael Campanalonga, who served as an assistant at the Northvale parish from 1965 to 1973 and organized summer camps for the Catholic Youth Organization, was permanently suspended in 1993 after refusing to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after allegations of sexual misconduct were made, the archdiocese says. Permanent suspension means he may no longer represent himself as a priest.
"Obviously, the archdiocese was saddened by those allegations," spokesman Michael Hurley said Friday."Whenever such allegations are made, we sympathize with the alleged victims, and we feel badly about the possibility that any of this could have transpired." In an Essex County court Friday, the archdiocese said it had no knowledge of the alleged assaults at the time. The archdiocese said it was not responsible if the assaults occurred.
Superior Court Judge Carol A. Ferentz in Newark rejected a motion by the parish and the archdiocese to remove them from the case. Ferentz told lawyers she could not simply rely on a written certification from the archdiocese, signed by the chancellor, Sister Thomas Mary Salerno, that it had no record of any complaints against Campanalonga.
"We have some very serious allegations of intentional conduct," the judge said, adding that they warrant investigation"to the nth degree." . The archdiocese says it first heard of alleged wrongdoing by the priest in February 1993, when a letter came to Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, leader of 1.3 million Roman Catholics in North Jersey. The letter was signed by Michael J. Corsie, a former Northvale resident and St. Anthony's parishioner. Corsie, and his younger brother, Thomas, filed lawsuits in 1994 against Campanalonga, the church, its current pastor, the Rev. James F. Johnson, who supervised Campanalonga, and the archdiocese.
In the letter, Michael Corsie said Campanalonga sexually molested and raped him between 1968 and 1970. He said he later learned that his two younger brothers were also molested.
"I never said anything to anyone because I felt guilty and that no one would believe me," Corsie said in the letter.
Corsie, who lives in Palisades, N.Y., was married by Campanalonga and has two children. He wrote McCarrick that he was bringing up the abuse 25 years later, on the advice of his therapist, to protect other children.
In a letter filed in court, therapist Lloyd Ross of Ridgewood said Michael Corsie came to him for help for marital and other personal problems, and in his eighth session shakingly described the alleged sexual abuse. Corsie"had repressed these memories over time,"and "psychotherapy apparently broke these memories loose,"Ross wrote. In court papers, Corsie says Campanalonga gave him liquor and gifts. He says anal intercourse, fellatio, and other sex acts took place on many occasions at different places, including Corsie's home, Campanalonga's mother's home, the rectory, and in motels in various states when the priest took Corsie on a car trip from New Jersey to California in the summer of 1968.
Campanalonga, who was believed to be living in Florida, never responded to the lawsuit and could not be reached for comment. Outside the courtroom, a lawyer for the archdiocese, Nicholas J. Spinelli of Morristown, declined to discuss the allegations, but emphasized: "Nothing has been proven as to whether it happened at all." Lawyers James S. Lynch of Ridgewood, who represents Michael Corsie, and Michael J. Geron of Springfield, who represents Thomas Corsie, said they want to question other former parishioners about Campanalonga. In an affidavit filed in court, Robert Vaglio, a former
parishioner, says he grew up near Northvale and participated as a teenager in the church's youth activities. While he had"no bad experiences" with the priest, Vaglio says other boys "complained that Father Campanalonga may have tried something on them." Northvale Police Chief Edward Gianotti, a St. Anthony's
parishioner, said Friday that police never received a complaint against Campanalonga, whom he described as"a good person and a good priest.
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