The Record [Woodland Park NJ]
October 13, 2021
By Deena Yellin
Eleven new abuse lawsuits were filed against the Catholic Church in New Jersey on Wednesday, including three naming former teachers at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell and another against a now-deceased instructor at St. Joseph Regional High in Montvale.
The suits were the latest amid hundreds of complaints filed in the two years since New Jersey lifted its statute of limitations on old sexual abuse claims. They come as the window for such cases is set to expire next month.
“We are getting more and more calls now,” Phillipsburg attorney Greg Gianforcaro said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that he plans to file “dozens” more suits in the coming weeks.
“Time is running out. November 30 is the close of the window. Anybody who wants to bring a case only has until then,” Gianforcaro said at a Wednesday press conference announcing the 11 lawsuits.
Officials at St. Joseph and Bergen Catholic didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuits were filed under the New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill, which took effect Dec. 1, 2019, and temporarily lifted the civil statute of limitations.
Since then, lawsuits have poured in against New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses, including the Newark Archdiocese, which oversees Bergen and Passaic counties, as well as the Boy Scouts of America and other institutions accused of ignoring past abuse.
In the newest suits, filed in state Superior Court in Essex County, the plaintiffs allege sexual improprieties by priests and teachers who worked at local schools and parishes years ago. None of those accused are still in active ministry, according to attorneys with Gianforcaro Law and Jeff Anderson & Associates, the firms overseeing the complaints.
All of the lawsuits were filed by adults who opted to remain anonymous. Many of them said they’d been unable to talk about their abuse for years or were rebuffed when they attempted to report it.
One of the complaints alleges abuse by John Dagwell, a former St. Joseph soccer coach and brother with the Xavierian religious order.
Dagwell was named in a similar suit last year and died in March 2020. He was convicted on criminal charges of abusing another St. Joseph student in the 1980s.
Although many other states have also suspended the statute of limitations on abuse lawsuits, New Jersey’s law is considered among the most expansive in the nation.
People who did not want to file lawsuits also had the option to bring their complaints to a victims’ compensation program that was established by the dioceses to compensate victims who agreed not to take their cases to court. The fund has handed out millions of dollars to victims, but hundreds of individuals have instead taken the lawsuit route.
Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.