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  Priests' Accusers to Share $1 Million
Newark Archdiocese Settles 10 Abuse Cases

By John Chadwick
The Record [Bergen County, NJ]
October 9, 2004

The Newark Archdiocese said Friday it will pay $1 million to settle 10 allegations of child sexual abuse against nine priests.

The settlement covers accusations that date back decades, though most came to light after the clergy child-abuse crisis exploded in 2002.

The archdiocese said the agreement, involving eight men and two women, makes no presumption of the priests' innocence or guilt.

Three of the accused still work as priests because the archdiocese found no evidence of wrongdoing during an internal investigation. Five others have been removed from ministry, and one is dead.

"Pretty much all the priests have denied the allegations," said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers. "However, the archdiocese chose to go to a settlement so that we could avoid protracted and costly litigation."

Myers said in a statement that "the court process would further lengthen the ordeal for all involved and delay any true healing for these men and women."

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Gregory Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg, said his clients are permanently scarred.

"There are no winners here," said Gianforcaro, who also is pursuing a lawsuit against the Diocese of Paterson. "These men and this woman will forever live with scars of having been victims of childhood sexual abuse."

One of the priests, the Rev. Joseph Rice, had served most recently as a chaplain at Bergen Regional Medical Center. The accusations against Rice dated to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was a parish priest in Union County, Goodness said.

Rice is among the five removed from ministry. That means he can't represent himself as a priest or celebrate a public Mass. Rice was one of two priests with Bergen County ties, Goodness said. The Rev. David Ernst died in 1988 and had served in parishes in Wyckoff and Ridgefield Park.

The archdiocese, which serves 1.3 million Catholics, covers Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union counties. The money for the settlement will be drawn from the archdiocese's insurance funds, Goodness said.

"Payments are made only through insurance program and not through any funds from parishes or the archbishops' annual appeal," he said.

The settlement is similar to others in New Jersey.The Metuchen Diocese agreed last year to pay $800,000 to settle the claims of 10 plaintiffs. The Camden Diocese settled a lawsuit last year involving 23 plaintiffs for $880,000.

The lawsuit against the Paterson Diocese, filed on behalf of 26 plaintiffs, is pending in state Superior Court in Morristown.

 
 

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