August 12, 2020
By Tom Nobile
Two former students at Paramus Catholic High School have come forward with sexual abuse allegations against a prominent hockey coach from the 1980s, saying the school shielded him from similar accusations for years.
In a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court, the two unnamed alumni say Paramus Catholic, the Archdiocese of Newark and its archbishop either were aware or should have known that coach Bernard Garris had “sexually inappropriate and/or sexually abusive relationships with many minor children.”
Garris molested both boys numerous times on school grounds and while on school-sanctioned athletic trips between 1986 and 1988, when the students were 14 or 15, says the suit, filed last week. Gerald McCarthy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said more may come forward.
“It’s our strong opinion in doing our initial investigation, after being contacted by several former students, that there may have been quite a few,” he said.
To protect their privacy, McCarthy did not disclose where the former students lived or what years they graduated, he said. The lawsuit says one plaintiff currently lives in New Jersey. The other is a Massachusetts resident.
Paramus Catholic did not return calls seeking comment, and the archdiocese said it would not discuss pending litigation.
“The Archdiocese of Newark remains fully committed to transparency and to our long-standing programs to protect the faithful and will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and bring closure to victims,” said Maria Margiotta, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.
The suit is the latest among dozens of complaints filed against the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and other institutions since Dec. 1, when a new state law waived the statue of limitation for decades-old abuse claims in New Jersey.
Garris was named to the Bergen County Coaches Association’s Century Victory Club for amassing 100 wins as a coach by 1985. But he was terminated from his position around 1986 due to abuse allegations from students and later died, in 2016, according to the lawsuit.
The school and the archdiocese, however, breached their duties to inform families of the alleged victims about the accusations, the lawsuit states.
“Despite this duty, defendants have for decades adopted policies and practices of covering up criminal activity committed by its agents and employees,” the complaint says.
A 2019 law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy greatly expanded the ability of alleged victims of sexual assault to sue attackers and eased restrictions on seeking damages from defendants, such as churches, that may have shielded the abuse. Whereas the previous law allowed only a two-year statute of limitations, alleged victims can now sue their abusers until they turn 55, or within seven years of their realization that the abuse caused them harm.
In early 2019, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses began releasing lists of priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. The list included two now-deceased priests who had served at Paramus Catholic: Dennis Cocozza, who was ordained in 1975, and Robert Morel, ordained in 1969.
Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.