Howell ex-pastor accused of abusing girls in 1983. Now a judge rules if they can testify

Asbury Park Press

January 27, 2021

By Kathleen Hopkins

Calling into question the accuracy of decades-old childhood memories, a judge on Tuesday ruled that two women who came forward almost 40 years later to accuse their former pastor of sexual impropriety will not be allowed to testify at the retired cleric’s upcoming child sexual abuse trial.

Superior Court Judge Ellen Torregrossa-O’Connor, in a 26-page ruling, said the stories of the two women who came forward in 2019 with allegations from 1983 were not clear and convincing enough to outweigh “the obvious prejudice” their testimony would pose to the Rev. Henry “Brendan” Williams, former pastor of St. Veronica R.C. Church in Howell, at his upcoming trial on child sexual assault charges stemming from alleged incidents in the late 1990s.

The two women came forward to authorities in October 2019 after learning Williams, now 81 and living in a retirement community for Catholic priests in Lawrence, had just been arrested on child sexual assault charges in the case dating to 1998.

One of the two women told detectives she was 13 and at a youth club meeting at St. Veronica’s in 1983 when Williams took her aside to an upstairs room in the rectory, where she thought he was going to kiss her. She told detectives she left before anything could happen.

The other woman told detectives she was 12 years old when Williams approached her in a vestibule after track practice and, while looking at her chest, told her, “You’re awfully big for sixth grade.” She alleged he then began kissing her and touching her buttocks.

Both women told detectives they reported the incidents to their parents, who didn’t take them seriously.

Torregrossa-O’Connor said in her ruling that detectives did not conduct any further investigation to corroborate the women’s claims by seeking out others, such as family members, to whom they told their stories or, in the case of the first woman, finding out who else had attended the youth group meeting that night.

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