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  An End, a Beginning
Sex Abuse Victims Settle with Paterson Diocese

By Makeba Scott Hunter
Herald News
February 16, 2005

Plaintiffs in the clergy sex abuse civil suit against the Paterson Diocese said a $5 million settlement announced Tuesday brings their legal struggle to an end - but is just the beginning of their healing process.

Several of the 27 plaintiffs in the case held a press conference announcing the settlement on the steps of the Morris County Courthouse in Morristown on Tuesday, alongside attorney Greg Gianforcaro, who represented 26 plaintiffs.

In addition to money, which the plaintiffs will split in varying amounts, the diocese will also provide four years of paid psychological counseling and, for those who request it, one-on-one meetings with Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli.

The diocese offered no apology or admission of guilt in the settlement, despite the sworn statement of James Hanley, a former diocese priest, who confessed to molesting at least 20 boys.

Twenty-one of the 27 plaintiffs named Hanley as their abuser. Additionally, the Revs. Thomas Rainforth, Julian B. Varettoni, Jose Alonzo (who is deceased), Donald Sella and former Deacon Carlos Guzman were named as alleged abusers in the lawsuit.

Many plaintiffs accepted the settlement as a victory of sorts but said much more needs to be done by the diocese to protect children and punish abusers.

"I'm happy that there is finally some sense of closure, but the door is still wide open," said plaintiff Robert Deacon, 57 of Randolph. "I'm going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life. ... There are many nights, three, four times a week, I wake up in a cold sweat with absolute panic attacks - still," he said.

Deacon said his abuse began at St. Mary's Parish in Wharton when he was 9 years old and lasted three years.

He repressed the memory until two years ago. Plaintiff Angel Navedo, 32, of Butler, shared Deacon's frustration. His abuser, whom he would not name, is still working in the Paterson diocese, he said.

"This is why I'm not so happy with the settlement," he said. Navedo said he was only abused once, at the age of 9, before he told his mother.

Other plaintiffs said that although the settlement did not include everything they hoped for, including the opening of clergy personnel files, they are still hopeful that the settlement will force the church to make changes in action and in attitude.

Plaintiff Johnny Vega, 41, of Wallington, showed up early, with a pair of black military-style boots slung over his shoulder. The boots, he said, were symbolic.

The diocese's lawyer had made the comment "when we first started the lawsuit about (plaintiffs) having to strap on boots and moving on with our lives. I took that very personally," he said.

"I bring them with me today only as a symbol that, yeah, eventually I will put them on, and I'll strap them up."

"But, at the same time, I plan on strapping my boots on with the bishop so we can work together to stop pedophile priests," said Vega, who founded New Jersey's Latino chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Gianfocaro said he is hopeful of more concessions from the church as a result of the one-on-one meetings with Serratelli, whom he called a "kind and compassionate man who is trying to assist the victims in their healing."

Serratelli, in a statement issued by the diocese, said, "I hope this will bring closure for all those involved to a long and painful experience for our church. We look forward to conciliation and healing."

The diocese, through its spokeswoman, Marianna Thompson, attempted to refute the notion that the church has not made sincere efforts to prevent child abuse by adults, both clergy and laymen. The diocese has implemented several training programs for "all of the adults in the diocese" to help protect children and identify abused children, she said.

"We have prevention programs in all of our schools, have done a massive training to make every adult a preventor/protector," said Thompson, "But these have all been ongoing for years."

"A light is being shined on things which happened well over two decades ago, so we must see it in that timeframe and that perspective," she said. "In recent years the diocese has actually brought things to the attention of the authorities. Jose Alonzo was handed over by the diocese to the police."

Thompson said the diocese will report any crimes in a timely fashion.

 
 

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