Retired Priest Accused of Abuse
By Makeba Scott Hunter
April 16, 2005
As an employee of the Centers for Disease Control, Mike Iatesta sets up HIV/AIDS prevention programs worldwide. On Friday afternoon, the 42-year-old Westfield resident sought to thwart what he claimed was another evil.
During a press conference at the Prime Suites Hotel in Secaucus, Iatesta aired allegations that the Rev. Gerald Ruane, of the now-defunct Sacred Heart Institute of Healing at Caldwell College, had sexually abused him as a teenager and young adult.
"Gerald Ruane, a recently retired priest of the Archdiocese of Newark - parish priest, college professor, campus minister, chaplain, director of the Sacred Heart Institute of Healing and a national charismatic healer - is also a sex offender," Iatesta alleged from a podium, surrounded by pictures of himself as a child. "I was one of his victims."
Iatesta is the latest in a series of accusers to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by area priests.
In February, the Diocese of Paterson settled a $5 million civil lawsuit with 26 alleged victims of priest sex abuse. Within the last two-and-a-half years, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen also have settled clergy-abuse lawsuits for a combined total of close to $2 million. Together, the cases involved nearly two dozen accusers. The church did not admit guilt or wrongdoing in any of those settlements.
Iatesta first reported his abuse to the Archdiocese of Newark in 2002, and the archdiocese performed a yearlong investigation into the charges. In late spring 2003, the church deemed his allegations to be credible, according to Archdiocese spokesman James Goodness.
In May 2004, Ruane retired from the priesthood. Archbishop John J. Myers issued a directive that, as a condition of Ruane's retirement, he no longer act or present himself as a priest, or publicly celebrate Mass. But he did celebrate Mass on Holy Thursday at St. Joseph's Church in Sterling.
"When I saw that, I said I have to go public," Iatesta said.
The archdiocese acknowledges that Ruane wrongfully celebrated that Mass during Holy Week but said that he had acted independently.
"On behalf of Archbishop Myers and Father Ruane, I offer Mr. Iatesta our sincerest apologies, and our assurance that the archdiocese takes most seriously its responsibility to investigate fully all allegations of abuse, to remove from ministry priests or Religious who have abused trust and to seek to heal victims of abuse," Goodness said in a statement issued on Friday.
Ruane could not be reached for comment. The archdiocese said he is living in the state of New Jersey but would not elaborate further.
Iatesta said he intends to file a civil suit against Ruane and the Archdiocese of Newark by summer; toward that end, he has retained attorney John Aretakis, who specializes in handing priest abuse cases. Iatesta said he has not yet determined what compensation to seek. His greatest hope, he added, is that his actions will help protect children from abuse, and force the church to be accountable for the behavior of pedophile priests.
Aretakis said his client is not pursuing criminal charges because the statute of limitations for sexual abuse has expired.
Iatesta maintains that the abuse began shortly after the death of his father in 1974, when Ruane began counseling the troubled 13-year-old. Ruane told Iatesta that, in the absence of his father, he "needed 10 hugs a day by a man to grow up normal," Iatesta said. As their relationship evolved, Ruane began to fill that role, and the hugs eventually led to sexual touching, Iatesta said.
"He would lie on top of me, breathing hard, kissing me on my neck and my lips, whispering in my ear and fondling my genitals inside my pants, exploring every private area of my body... . This went on for all of my adolescent years," he alleged.
The abuse ended in 1982, Iatesta said, when he was 20 and a girlfriend encouraged him to re-evaluate his relationship with Ruane and distance himself, which he did. He did not report the incidents to his mother, friends or the Archdiocese of Newark until April of 2002 despite having vivid memories of the abuse on a daily basis.
In the beginning, "I was under his spell," Iatesta said of Ruane. "For me to say that he was lying, that he was wrong, that he was abusing me, would also have meant that all of the affirmations of love and the good things that he was saying about me were also a lie. And at that time, I couldn't take another loss of another relationship."
Years later, when he finally came to view his entire relationship with Ruane as abusive, Iatesta still didn't tell because, "I was basically scared of the emotions because they were so ugly," he said. "I was so horrified of what emotions were deep down inside of me that, if I exposed them, what would come out, and how would I handle them?"
Eventually his feelings of shame and guilt became overwhelming, he said, especially after the 2002 priest abuse scandals in Boston made national headlines.
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