N.J. Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a boy 30 years ago

nj.com [New Jersey]

April 24, 2021

By Rebecca Panico

A Catholic priest in Atlantic Highlands stands accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed by a man who claims the priest repeatedly molested him decades ago when he was 13 or 14 years old.

Rev. Joseph Farrell, now a pastor at St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in New Egypt, was put on leave by the Diocese of Trenton after the 44-year-old man filed suit. NJ Advance Media is not disclosing the plaintiff’s name since his lawsuit involves claims of sexual abuse.

“A report was filed immediately by the Diocese with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Diocese has pledged its full cooperation to law enforcement,” the Diocese of Trenton said in a statement.

The lawsuit says Farrell began to groom him for abuse while he was a student at the now-closed St. Agnes Catholic School in Atlantic Highlands around 1989 or 1990. The man claims the priest would massage his shoulders after basketball games and offered to write a letter of recommendation so he could get into a good high school.

The lawsuit then documents a series of times Farrell allegedly groped him, performed oral sex on him, masturbated in front of him and then raped him. The man’s attorney, John Baldante, said his client was “bravely taking steps to process the sexual abuse.”

“That process begins with speaking truth to power,” Baldante said.

The man is now suing the Diocese of Trenton, Farrell and others for $50 million. The Asbury Park Press first reported on the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in Superior Court of Mercer County.

A state bill (S477) was amended in 2019 that changed the statute of limitations on civil suits involving sexual assault and allowed victims a new two-year window to pursue their case. Previously, there was a two-year statute of limitations on those lawsuits.

Farrell’s name does not appear on a list compiled by New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses of clergy “credibly accused” of sexual abuse against other minors in the past. But Baldante said there could be more victims.

“There is no power greater than using and leveraging God to commit this sexual abuse,” Baldante said.

Farrell previously worked as a priest at St. Agnes Church, which is now known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish. Announcements about the allegations were made during Mass on April 10 and 11 at that church and St. Isidore the Farmer Parish where Farrell worked before being suspended, the Diocese of Trenton said.

“The Diocese requests prayers for all involved in this painful and difficult matter,” the Diocese of Trenton said.

The diocese urged anyone who has been sexually abused as a minor by a representative of the Diocese of Trenton or knows of such abuse to report that information immediately to the police and to the Diocese (1-888-296-2965 or abuseline@dioceseoftrenton.org).

Rebecca Panico may be reached at rpanico@njadvancemedia.com.