Suit Accuses Spring Lake Priest of Sex Abuse

By Graelyn Brashear
Asbury Park Press
July 22, 2009

A lawsuit filed this week claims a Catholic priest based in Spring Lake abused a young girl and her brother 35 years ago.

The complaint, filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County by lawyer Robert R. Fuggi Jr., accuses the Rev. John O'Donoghue of regularly sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother while the Roman Catholic priest served in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish in Spring Lake between 1973 and 1974.

In the complaint, the female plaintiff, now living in Asbury Park and identified only as "K.M.," alleges a priest she called Father O'Donoghue abused her over the course of a year and a half during regular visits to her home, where he came to administer Mass to her mother, who was bedridden with cancer. The complaint says the family were members of the parish, and the girl was a student at the parish-run St. Catharine School.

The complaint alleges that while the girl's father was caring for her mother, the priest fondled the child and forced her to perform sex acts. It also alleges that he fondled the girl's brother. The complaint names St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish and the Diocese of Trenton as defendants, claiming its priests, deacons, teachers and other employees knew or reasonably should have known of the abuse.

"It was very close after this abuse that he was shipped out," Fuggi said of O'Donoghue. "We have a suspicion that it was probably over allegations of sexual abuse."

Diocese spokesman Steven Emery said the diocese has no record of a priest named John O'Donoghue working in the parish at that time, but a Rev. Charles O'Donoghue served there from 1969 until 1975, when he returned to his native Ireland, Emery said. Emery said the Diocese believes Charles O'Donoghue died in 1986 at the age of 84.

Fuggi said that some people contacted in connection with the case remembered the priest's first name as John, and others remembered it as Charles. He said the plaintiff had identified the priest in photographs, however.

Emery said the diocese received a letter notifying it of the complaint on July 10. The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office confirmed that a complaint was filed Monday.

The diocese is "making no assumptions" about whether the filer of the complaint intended to identify Charles O'Donoghue, Emery said.


"We're simply stating that there was no John but there was a Charles," he said.

Fuggi said the long delay between the alleged abuse and the filing of the complaint "is not different from many other cases" involving sexual abuse.

"This particular woman read about another story about a priest sexually abusing a child, and it spurred her to come forward," Fuggi said.

In 2002, the diocese received a letter that accused a Father O'Donoghue of sexual abuse in the mid-1970s, Emery said. Fuggi said that complaint is separate from the allegations made by his client.

Emery said that in keeping with its own policy, the diocese turned over the 2002 letter to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office that year, and has done the same with the most recent complaint.

According to a press release issued by the diocese, Charles O'Donoghue was a member of a religious order based in Ireland known as the Irish Spiritans. The release said the diocese is reaching out to the Irish Spiritan Fathers for more information on O'Donoghue, and will present the complaint to the Diocesan Review Board.

The lawsuit is the second sexual abuse suit in three months to name the Diocese of Trenton as a defendant. In May, two plaintiffs filed suit against the diocese and the Rev. Richard Milewski, a former pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Freehold, alleging that the priest sexually abused them during an overnight trip to a spa resort in the mid-1980s.

Fuggi is also representing the plaintiffs in the suit against Milewski, and represented 22 plaintiffs in a molestation suit accusing the late Rev. Robert L. Slegel of St. Thomas Lutheran Church on Slamon Street in Brick of molesting boys in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. A confidential settlement was reached in that case earlier this year.


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