Ed Hanratty had been getting therapy to deal abuse he endured as a youngster (see photo). The Newark Archdiocese was willing to pay for it. However, Hanratty, and other survivors have now been told there are conditions. Provided; still from video.

He pushed the NJ church to reckon with sexual assault. A new book shares his journey

The Record [Woodland Park NJ]

May 31, 2024

By Deena Yellin

[Ed Hanratty had been getting therapy to deal with abuse he endured as a youngster (see photo above). The Newark Archdiocese was willing to pay for it. However, Hanratty, and other survivors have now been told there are conditions. This article includes an excellent two-minute video interview with Hanratty.]

For most of his life, Ed Hanratty carried a burden that he only recently began to unwrap.

When he was an altar boy at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ridgefield Park some 35 years ago, he was sexually abused, he said.

The Rev. Gerald Sudol was a charismatic priest in his 30s who came to St. Francis in the 1980s and immediately became popular. Known for his outgoing personality, he paid special attention to the boys and cracked jokes, Hanratty said.

Hanratty said Sudol kissed him for the first time when he was 11, beginning a four-year pattern of abuse. One day, as they floated alone in his family’s backyard swimming pool, Hanratty said the priest molested him in an incident he later described as “the worst thing that I ever experienced.”

Now 47, Hanratty said he’s suffered with the fallout from his trauma: substance abuse, intimacy issues, anxiety, depression, disdain for authority and low self-esteem. “I realized it manifested itself in the void that I felt, in confusion and identity. That is the void that a substance abuser jumps into to provide answers. I turned to heavy drinking throughout my teenage years to run from it.”

His latest stop on a lifelong quest for healing and justice is a new memoir that lays out the harrowing journey of his childhood. “Nervous Exhaustion: A Gen X Saga of Clergy Abuse, PTSD, and the Path to Acceptance,” will be released July 1 and is already available for Kindle pre-order on Amazon. A 475-page hardcover edition will soon be available as well.

Hanratty lives in West Milford with his wife of 22 years. He’s worked for most of his life as a television-news archivist.

But his seemingly stable resume belies the emotional turmoil just beneath the surface. For decades, he said in an interview, he tried to block the abuse out of his mind. Then he tried to convince himself it wasn’t a big deal.

The book, which took 12 years to write, was the culmination of a long, therapeutic journey, Hanratty said. He began writing it for himself but realized in the process that it was important for others to read. Self-published through Amazon Kindle Direct, the memoir is available for prices ranging from $10 to $24.99.

The book’s overarching message is that healing is a lifelong effort. But accepting that reality was difficult.

“I wanted there to be a quick closure,” said Hanratty.

Hanratty went public with his story in 2018, part of a wave of accusers that forced New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses to reckon with a history of clergy abuse. The dioceses in 2019 released a list of 188 priests deemed “credibly accused” of improprieties, including Sudol.

“Ed Hanratty has been a forerunner in making sure that the abuse he endured has been made known and handled by the proper authorities,” said Robert Hoatson of West Orange, another clergy abuse survivor and an advocate for the community.

Hoatson, who also has a book coming out, said publishing such stories is a positive way to “work through your trauma. It’s cathartic to put it out there. The more I wrote, the more it brought back memories. It’s a way to tell the truth.”

Hanratty, however, had stayed silent for decades about what he had endured.

The turning point was a Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in 2018, which documented the stories of hundreds of clergy abuse victims in the Keystone State and a decades-long coverup by the Church.

As he read through the report, Hanratty said, he felt like he was reading his own autobiography.

“I realized that I was part of something much bigger,” he said. “It hit me that I too had been carrying around this burden for so long it had affected every aspect of my life.”

Hanratty had kept the sordid details of his abuse from his closest friends and family, although they often suffered the most.

Shortly after the grand jury report was released, he shared the details of his abuse in his hometown newspaper in Ridgefield Park. After it was published, he received an email that made his blood go cold: “I don’t know if you remember me,” it read, “but I was an altar boy with you and went through the same thing with Father Gerry.”

Like Hanratty, the writer said he too had never breathed about it to anyone.

Hanratty said he subsequently learned of many other victims who had kept quiet. There were at least two who had died young through drug overdoses, he learned.

After Hanratty’s disclosure, Sudol, then 64, was forced to step away from his parish in Jersey City. The cleric had faced similar accusations 15 years earlier and was one of nine priests whose accusers settled with the Newark Archdiocese for a $1 million out-of-court settlement in 2004. But Sudol was assigned to work in a hospice and various parishes, where he was around children.

“He was assigned to a church attached to an elementary school,” Hanratty said in disbelief.

In 2019, after Hanratty went public, the Archdiocese of Newark revealed Sudol had been permanently removed from ministry, citing what the diocese called multiple credible allegations of sexual abuse.

Hanratty said he’s had no contact with Sudol and doesn’t know where he is. Sudol’s last address was in Pennsylvania. Efforts by The Record and NorthJersey.com to reach him recently were unsuccessful.

“If he’s still around,” Hanratty said, “I hope he reads the book.”

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.

Email: yellin@northjersey.com