Sex Case against Church Is Dismissed
Northvalebrothers Allege Abuse in '60s
By Seamus McGraw
The Record [Bergen County, NJ]
November 23, 1999
Judge Carol A. Ferentz firmly believes that two men from Northvale were sexually abused as boys nearly 25 years ago by their family priest. But the Essex County Superior Court judge said she does not believe the two brothers repressed the memory of those sexual assaults for more than two decades, or that both separately and suddenly remembered the attacks more than two decades later.
That legal distinction is a major setback in the efforts of Michael and Thomas Corsie's attempts to punish the Catholic church and, possibly, the priest, their lawyers said.
At a hearing Monday, Ferentz, who has presided over the five-year dispute between the Corsies and the accused molester, Father Michael G. Campanalonga, and his superior, Monsignor James Johnson, ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on most aspects of the case. In effect, the judge, who earlier this month dismissed complaints against the Archdiocese of Newark and St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, dismissed the complaints against Johnson as well.
Questions remain about whether Johnson knew, or should have known about the priest's behavior with the boys, the judge said. There were, she said, persistent rumors about the priest, and at least one of these had been brought to Johnson's attention.
"The inference would have been too great"to ignore the question, Ferentz said.
But too much time has elapsed since the alleged assaults, which occurred between 1966 and 1974, for the court to consider them, the judge said.
After five days of testimony earlier this month, Ferentz said she concluded that Michael Corsie, now 46, and Thomas Corsie, 37, were indeed abused by Campanalonga, their parish priest, who had also served as a kind of "local parent"to the boys at St. Anthony's. What she questioned was the sudden recollection of the event. Thomas Corsie had claimed that he recovered his memory of the events while in a drug rehabilitation program. Michael Corsie testified that his memory returned to him 15 days later while meeting with his therapist.
Although psychiatric experts for the archdiocese and the Corsies concluded that it was just happenstance that both men remembered the alleged assaults about the same time, a skeptical Ferentz said she questioned whether"it was just coincidence." Instead, the judge concluded, the Corsies had always remembered at least something about the alleged incidents and, as a result, were bound by the statute of limitations to report them more than 15 years ago. Absent from Ferentz's ruling was any decision regarding Campanalonga, who was defrocked in 1993 after he refused to undergo psychiatric evaluation for the allegations of sexual misconduct. That, says James S. Lynch, the lawyer representing Michael Corsie, means that the case against him still stands.
Four years ago, Ferentz entered a default judgment against the former priest after he failed to answer the Corsies lawsuit. He still has not responded, Lynch said. A trial to determine what Campanalonga will have to pay is scheduled to begin on Dec. 6.. Monday's ruling left Lynch and Michael Geron, the lawyer representing Thomas Corsie, uncertain about their next step. "It's a setback," Geron said, adding that the lawyers planned to talk to their clients about whether to appeal the judge's ruling. In the meantime, Lynch said, the lawyers are also wondering what they can expect at the Dec. 6 hearing.
"It's a little unclear,"Lynch said, referring to Ferentz's decision, which did not say whether she believes the statute of limitations also scuttled the case against the former priest. Under state law, it is up to the defendant to raise the the question of whether the statute of limitations applies, and given that Campanalonga hasn't raised it, "we're going to be here on Dec. 6."
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