Newark Archdiocese Reaches New Settlement in Decades-Old Case of Alleged Sexual Abuse

By Mark Mueller
The Star-Ledger
May 15, 2013

The Rev. John Nickas died in 2008.

The Rev. John Nickas, left, blesses a new chapel at St. Rocco's Church in Newark in this 1996 file photo.

The Archdiocese of Newark has reached a $75,000 settlement with a man who alleges he was plied with alcohol, physically threatened and molested four decades ago by a Roman Catholic priest.

The man, who asked to be identified by his initials, F.P., because he is an alleged victim of sexual abuse, contends the Rev. John Nickas sexually assaulted him at least a half dozen times between 1970 and 1972 at St. Rocco’s Church in Newark. The parish has since merged with St. Ann’s Church to form the Parish of the Transfiguration.

Nickas, who was well known in Essex County for his work on behalf of the poor and the homeless, died in 2008 at age 68. He had served as pastor of St. Rocco’s and, later, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Montclair. It is the first time he has been publicly accused of abuse.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents F.P., and Robert Hoatson, a New Jersey advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, jointly announced the settlement earlier this week.

In a telephone interview, the alleged victim said he was an 8-year-old altar boy at the Hunterdon Street church when Nickas targeted him, urging him to drink sacramental wine and then sexually assaulting him in both the church and the rectory.

The man, now 51, said the priest also warned him not to speak about the encounters.

"He grabbed me around the neck and told me to be quiet and that if I ever told anyone, he would hurt me or my family," the alleged victim said. "He said God would punish me."

The man is one of two alleged victims to have accused Nickas of sexual abuse.

Richard C. Gee II, 47, who now lives in Georgia, contends he met Nickas when a family crisis in the 1970s caused him to move for a time to a Newark homeless shelter founded by the priest.

Gee alleges Nickas molested him at the shelter, at rooming houses run by the parish, inside St. Rocco’s and inside a car while Nickas cruised the streets in search of young male prostitutes.

In recent years, the alleged victims separately brought their cases to the Archdiocesan Review Board, which investigates allegations of sexual abuse. The board, appointed by Archbishop John J. Myers, found their claims were not credible, Garabedian and Hoatson said.

Hoatson, a former priest and the founder of the support group Road to Recovery, said the settlement involving F.P. shows the review board findings were incorrect, and he demanded the archdiocese re-examine its findings in Gee’s case.

Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, declined to comment.

Nickas founded several homeless shelters and day care centers while working in Newark. A Maplewood native, he also served on numerous local boards, including the Essex County Council for the Homeless and the YMCA and YWCA of Newark.

The announcement of the settlement is the second in as many weeks for the Newark Archdiocese.

Last Thursday, Phillipsburg attorney Greg Gianforcaro said the archdiocese paid $650,000 to five alleged victims of the Rev. Carmen Sita, a Jersey City priest who legally changed his name to Gerald Howard and moved to Missouri after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a child.

Howard has since been criminally charged with molesting three more children in Missouri. He remains jailed pending trial.


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