Asbury Park Press
May 27, 2021
By Kathleen Hopkins
Confronted with an allegation that he sexually abused the daughter of a deacon in his parish decades earlier, the former pastor of St. Veronica R.C. Church in Howell admitted to detectives that he touched the girl on the leg as a friendly gesture, but denied doing anything more than that.
“Oh, not at all, no, not at all,” the Rev. Henry “Brendan” Williams told then-Detective Sgt. Michael Magliozzo and Detective Thomas Manzo of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office when confronted with an accusation that he molested a child in the late 1990s.
That was on a videotape of the detectives’ interview with Williams in August 2019, after a woman made allegations that the priest had sexually abused her when she was a child. Superior Court Judge Ellen Torregrossa-O’Connor viewed the videotape in court Wednesday as Williams’ trial on three counts of sexual assault resumed.
Magliozzo, who retired from the Prosecutor’s Office last year and now is a lieutenant in the law enforcement unit of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was on the witness stand as the video was shown.
He said he brought Williams, now 80 and living in a retirement home for clergy in Lawrence, to the Lawrence police station for questioning after telling him of the allegations against him. When he did, Williams said something to the effect of, “Oh, this must be about when I touched her on the knee,” Magliozzo testified.
The person making the allegation is now 34 years old. She was on the witness stand Tuesday and most of Wednesday, prior to Magliozzo’s testimony. She testified that Williams molested her on three occasions, once at the Shrimp Box restaurant in Point Pleasant Beach, when Williams joined her family for dinner there during the summer of 1998, when she was 11; again that fall at her family’s home in Colts Neck; and the following summer at an anniversary party at the Crystal Point Inn in Point Pleasant.
The woman, who the Asbury Park Press is not identifying because she claims she is a victim of sexual assault, testified that Williams placed his hand on her knee under the tablecloth at the Shrimp Box as her family was eating salads and appetizers, and then he worked his hand up her thigh to her vaginal area.
Williams, being interviewed by the detectives, described that incident differently.
“We were at a table, her parents on the other side, and she’s to my left,” Williams told the detectives. “During the meal, I put my hand on her thigh, above the knee, gave it a little squeeze as a way of saying, you know, friendship, and that was it.”
Magliozzo asked Williams how the girl reacted to that.
“I didn’t notice any reaction,” he responded. “It was afterwards I heard she was offended by it.”
He told the detectives he wrote the girl asking for her forgiveness.
“I said, ‘You’re very special to me as a friend and your family are special to me,'” Williams said he wrote in the note. “’I treasure the relationship that we have.'”
Williams said the incident happened when the girl was much older than 11. He told the detectives he recalled it happening shortly before she graduated high school.
During the interview, the detectives told Williams of a second allegation the girl made — that he also touched her vaginal area as she lay on the couch in the family room when the priest was visiting her family at their Colts Neck home the same year.
“Absolutely not,” Williams responded, although conceding he may have rubbed the girl’s back in a consoling way because she wasn’t feeling well.
“There’s something strange going on,” he said. “Now, I will tell you, when I would leave the home and go to the car, she would come out with me and give me a peck on the lips. I wouldn’t initiate that. She would always initiate that, so it was to me a harmless thing, a friendship thing, and I found it appropriate, but I was very careful that that was all that ever happened.”
During the woman’s testimony, she did not say Williams touched her vaginal area during the incident in Colts Neck. She testified that he began rubbing her back before touching her breasts.
The detectives did not at that time confront Williams with the allegation of molestation the woman claimed happened at the Crystal Inn in Point Pleasant during the summer of 1999.
She did not come forward with the allegations until late 2018.
Williams told the detectives in his videotaped interview that the Diocese of Trenton had received a report of the allegation sometime after that.
“I think it was reported to the diocese, and I responded,” Williams said.
Williams has opted to forgo a jury trial and have the judge decide his guilt or innocence.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues, unsolved mysteries and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at email@example.com.