Senate Testimony

By Mark Crawford
January 26, 2004

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be heard today! My name is Mark Crawford, I am speaking to you today on behalf of my younger brother as well as myself, both survivors enduring more than four years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse by our parish priest, Father Kenneth Martin.

Fr. Martin was assigned to St. Andrews parish in Bayonne where I was attending catholic grammar school. He became very close to my family who were active parishioners. He often spent much of his time at my house rather than the rectory. My mother trusted him as a priest and believed he always had the best of intentions for us. He eventually began taking me on trips throughout the country, some for weeks at a time, including one to Europe. He brought me fine clothing and jewelry and would even give me money if I asked. It was on a train trip to Colorado when he first sexually abused me, I was 13 then. This continued several times a week for the next few years.

On the occasion of my 14th birthday, he became angry at something I had said. Too afraid to admit I said it, he took my younger brother and I to the basement to beat our bare backsides with a belt buckle. On another occasion, as I was walking him home to the rectory in the early morning hours, he wanted to talk about how I saw him in my life. When I told him that I sometimes felt more like his wife he hit me hard enough to knock me through a row of hedges and on a trip to Europe we physically fought as I would not sleep in the same bed with him, he won. Such outbursts of anger and physical abuse were not uncommon. At age 17 I moved out of the house and he began sexually abusing my younger brother. The effects on him have been far more devastating -- his wife left him taking his children and his home. A once vibrant, energetic and hard working man, his deep, emotional scars have rendered him permanently disabled.

In 1983 I finally summoned the courage to tell the local bishop that Fr. Martin had abused me both sexually and physically and the he was probably doing the same to my younger brother. I never asked him for anything other than to remove Farther Martin from our parish and ensure he harms no other children. This bishop was quite irritated and did not treat me kindly. He insisted I meet with a priest at Boystown and explain everything to him in detail. At my last meeting with this priest, I was simply told to stay away from Fr. Martin and he would stay away from me. Of course that did not happen, they never removed him from my parish as I had requested. In fact, they never reported this man to the local authorities, as they were required to do by State law. After all. the penalty for not reporting is only $500 dollars.

After spending several more years in our parish, Fr. Martin was rewarded for his priestly abilities and appointed the Archbishop’s personal secretary. After several years of service, he was returned to parish ministry as a pastor in the Oranges.

In 1996 my younger brother began to speak of his abuse. This was something I believed I managed to put behind me, I was wrong. My life began to unravel as fear of the truth finally coming out could and would cause irreparable damage to my family and our relationships. I began having nightmares and flashbacks the likes of which I would wish on no one. I began to see a therapist. No longer able to sleep or function as normal, I was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.

I again approached the church but this time I retained counsel so as not to be ignored AGAIN. I was seeking a pastoral response but I received a legal one. They offered to pay for my therapy but stated this in NO WAY admits any responsibility. They also made it clear that any attempt at civil litigation would fail as Charitable Immunity protected them and the Statute of Limitations had already expired. Eventually the Church offered some money and repeatedly asked for a confidentiality agreement. I was outraged that they wanted my silence and made it clear I would never agree to any such condition of secrecy.

Finally, I insisted on a meeting with the Archbishop and he did meet with me. I asked that Father Martin not have access to children again and he assured me this would not happen. Several months later Father Martin was quietly returned to ministry as a hospital chaplain in Newark. I found this out when I saw his picture in the diocesan newspaper at Christmas time, he was surrounded by children. When I saw this I knew the Church still didn’t get it. These institutions had no incentive to change because they have been well insulated by virtue of this states Charitable Immunity Act.

Recently Bill Bolan of the Catholic Conference said “its extraordinarily unfair for Charitable Immunity to be retroactively repealed, changing the rules in the middle of a game is unfair”. It is clear, the Church sees this issue as a game which can be won or lost. They would have you believe they are the victims here. I ask you do you suppose it is fair that victims live with the life long consequences such as, shame, guilt, anger, addictions, depression, anxiety disorders, sexual identity confusion or dysfunction, and difficulty in relationships just to name a few. Do you think it is fair that when an individual is finally aware of the harm done to them, they discover they have little to no legal recourse in this state? Do you suppose it was victims who lobbied our legislature in 1958 to quickly reinstate Charitable Immunity when the Sunset provision allowed it to expire? Of course not!

Charitable Immunity Laws were established to shield these organizations from frivolous law suits - for instance, someone tripping or falling on a sidewalk. The fact is some institutions in our state have effectively used this law as their “Pedophile Protection Policy”. As members of this committee may be aware, most insurance policies today have an exclusion denying claims resulting from the sexual misconduct of an institutions employees. Why is our state law used as their protection? It is time to cancel this policy and amend charitable Immunity so it cannot be used in such a way!

Monsignor Alan J. Placa, a Roman Catholic Priest and Legal Consultant, recalls an actual event when he was being addressed by the parents of a child who was allegedly abused by his parish priest. In response to this conversation he writes in “Slayer of the Soul: Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church”, “No lawyer could give better expression to the legal grounds for finding institutional liability in these matters. Those parents reasonably relied on the Church. They entrusted their son to the priest in question not because they knew or trusted him personally (although they might have) but because the priest was clothed in the moral authority of the institution he represented.” The same could be said for the American Boys Choir School or any other institution charged with supervision of our children.

Honorable Assemblymen and Assemblywoman, when I attended grammar school I recall reciting a pledge each day. I am certain you did the same; it was the Pledge of Allegiance. You may recall the last few words of this pledge -- “and justice for ALL”, and justice for all. Not just for charities or non-profit institutions, not justice to begin at a later date, for some. You have an opportunity today to uphold and make true the pledge you have taken many times. This narrow amendment only removes immunity in cases involving the sexual molestation of a minor. Certainly you don’t believe any institution deserves immunity when they have in any way allowed such harm to come to our children.

These institutions must not be ABOVE THE LAW and held to a lesser standard then that of our secular society. Please pass Bill A 2512 retroactively and restore justice to those who have already paid much too high a price.


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