Church Abuse Case in Peoria Raises Questions in North Jersey
By Jeff Green
September 2, 2013
|Joanne Ward holding photos of her son Andrew who was allegedly abused as an 8-year-old by the Rev. Thomas W. Maloney in Illinois. Maloney was a priest in the Peoria Diocese under Bishop John J. Myers, now the Newark archbishop. Joining her is Bob Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, a victims’ advocacy group.|
|Archbishop John J. Myers of the Diocese of Newark |
Complaints about the Rev. Thomas W. Maloney – that he dressed sloppily, made inappropriate remarks during Mass, and was seen kissing a teenage girl – began piling up within months of his assignment as pastor to an Illinois parish in 1995.
The most serious was contained in a memo written that year that documented a woman’s claim that Maloney sexually abused her when she was 10. Diocese of Peoria officials took no action on her report, and a month after they received it Maloney allegedly molested an 8-year-old boy, according to a lawsuit filed years later by the boy’s attorney.
At the time, the Peoria Diocese was headed by John J. Myers, now the archbishop of Newark, who is facing criticism from state lawmakers and others that he has failed to adequately protect church members from clergy in New Jersey who have been accused of inappropriate behavior.
How those complaints in Peoria were handled — detailed in the lawsuit which was settled for $1.35 million in June — heighten questions about Myers’ methods there and whether they may have carried over to his tenure in New Jersey.
The practices, described in his deposition testimony and in personnel files released after the settlement, include sloppy record-keeping, a reliance on his second-in-command — the vicar general — to handle grave allegations against priests without sharing information with him, and a failure to alert parishioners about clerics in their midst who are under suspicion. In the case of Maloney, the documents show Myers went further, telling parishioners who questioned the priest’s behavior that no “allegations of impropriety” had been made.
The files raise questions about his relationship with Maloney, whom he promoted to monsignor after the years of complaints about him. Myers testified he was “not a close friend,” but records show he had dined with him, invited him on vacation, accepted his gifts, and spoke with him on his deathbed.
The documents were released as the debate over Myers’ leadership in Newark seems to have reached a new level. With four prominent state lawmakers calling for his resignation, Myers in August went on the offensive, sending a blunt letter to clergy and parishioners defending his actions in the Maloney case and denouncing his critics as “evil” — a letter so forceful that a Harvard theology professor called it the most strongly worded missive from a bishop he has seen.
Myers’ supporters defend his actions in Newark. Shortly after he departed Peoria for Newark in 2001, the American church responded to the explosive priest sex-abuse scandal by enacting a no-tolerance policy, a move intended to limit the discretion of bishops and diocesan leaders in matters of priest sex abuse, in part by handing investigations over to independent review boards. The archdiocese spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the archbishop had moved against 19 priests accused of such acts since the policy was put into effect.
“That charge that he hasn’t done anything — has not taken action, doesn’t have a hands-on approach, does not consider victims — is totally baseless in light of what he has demonstrated,” Goodness said last week.
Although there have been markedly fewer cases reported recently, the archdiocese has still been tarnished by a string of controversies, including one involving the Rev. Michael Fugee, a former assistant pastor in Wyckoff, who was allowed to interact with children after the archdiocese reached an agreement that he would not, following accusations that he had groped a teenage boy. The controversies have left some parishioners feeling betrayed and questioning whether church leaders are adequately protecting them and their children.
Almost immediately after Myers became bishop of the sprawling, rural Peoria Diocese in 1990, he had to deal with a stream of child molestation complaints.
Myers relied on a system he established that was not uncommon in the Catholic Church at the time. He said in the deposition that he usually delegated complaints to his vicar general, expecting that the reports would be “dealt with” but not necessarily that he would be informed of them. In a handful of cases, alleged victims reported complaints directly to Myers and he investigated, sometimes winning praise for reaching settlements and on other occasions drawing criticism for not acting until, alleged victims said, he was pressured to do so. Myers did not contact law enforcement about most abuse allegations, and he said in his deposition he had a policy of not alerting parishioners, even if priests were removed from ministry.
Nowhere were these policies more evident than in the case of Maloney, whose personnel file was released as part of the settlement.
Parishioners wrote to Monsignor James F. Campbell, the vicar general for much of Myers’ tenure in Peoria, about an array of concerns, according to the documents. Campbell died in 2005.
In a 1995 letter, one parishioner spoke of how Maloney’s dress “did not lend itself to the dignity of the priesthood.” Later that year, another churchgoer complained about his requirement that children give face-to-face confessions.
That December, when a priest in a neighboring parish received word that a woman was allegedly abused by Maloney when she was 10, he, too, went to Campbell. According to the woman, who said she was abused in the 1970s, Campbell told her “it was unlikely anything would happen because of the amount of time that had gone by.”
No action was taken on the woman’s report, said Jeff Anderson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit that was settled in June.
The complaints continued. The next year, 1996, a different parishioner wrote that Maloney was “once again acting unprofessional — hugging then kissing on the cheek of a rather young teenage girl.”
Members of the parish — Epiphany R.C. Church, in Normal, Ill. — talked that year of a spiritual and material “demise” of their church under Maloney’s leadership and one mother wrote to Campbell’s successor in the vicar general post in 1999 that the pastor had discussed “the sexual acts of a fellow priest” with her son during a confession.
Myers gave the title of monsignor to Maloney in 1999.
Parishioners wrote in a letter dated Sept. 1, 2000, to Myers that Maloney frequently took eighth-grade girls out for lunch. They also claimed to have observed Maloney alone with a grade-school girl in his car one night — she left the car, entered a pharmacy and returned to the car with a bag full of candy, the letter said.
Among the released documents – in which the names and signatures of corresponding parishioners were redacted — it was the only letter addressed directly to Myers that alleged improper behavior with children by Maloney. Two weeks later Myers wrote in a reply that “I do know that Father loves people, especially young people, and that he cares for them generously. We have never had allegations of impropriety.”
Myers testified that he didn’t remember the correspondence with parishioners and said that he knew nothing about any complaints regarding Maloney.
When Myers was asked to explain his lack of action, he testified in his deposition that he knew very little about sex-abuse complaints because of his delegation to the vicar general and “haphazard” file keeping.
“I did not have any suspicions,” Myers said of Maloney in the deposition. “Because of the perhaps slipshod filing system that we had … there may have been things that got by me.”
He pointed to two cases in which he conducted investigations into complaints of abuse, one involving the Rev. John C. Anderson, who was accused of abusing a seminarian. He said he found no evidence to support the charges in either case.
The difference between his actions and those of his successor in Peoria, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, could not have been more stark.
Three months after Jenky was installed in 2002, he removed seven priests from ministry following credible allegations of sex abuse. One of the priests was Anderson. Maloney was forced into retirement later that year.
In 2002, when Myers was in Newark, Goodness defended his actions in Peoria, saying Myers “really has no knowledge” of the allegations against the seven priests. Goodness argued that the allegations had surfaced after Myers left the diocese. Myers, in his deposition, said “clear testimony” that Anderson had abused children was kept in a secret file maintained by the vicar general that he never saw.
To one priest who worked in the diocese, Myers’ approach to sexual abuse left a feeling of disillusionment and prompted him to seek work in another diocese. The Rev. Patrick Collins, who was rector of the cathedral in Peoria and once lived in diocesan quarters with Myers and other church leaders, said the archbishop’s explanations don’t reflect “the John Myers I know well.”
“He was not a lackadaisical administrator,” said Collins, a vocal critic of Myers who said his experience in Peoria inspired him to help found the victim’s advocacy group Catholic Whistleblowers.
“It’s hard for me to believe that he didn’t know about Maloney,” Collins said during a telephone interview. “He was a very astute hands-on manager of everything.”
Myers left Illinois in 2001 for Newark, an archdiocese five times the size of Peoria, serving more than a million Catholics in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties. It was a transition he made in the midst of the greatest scandal in the American church’s history.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responding to the child sex-abuse crisis, in 2002 adopted the “Dallas Charter,” a policy that demands removal of priests from ministry on a single credible allegation. The policy put review boards made up of clergy and lay people in charge of investigating cases of sexual misconduct involving children.
Under the guidelines, Myers has removed 19 priests in the archdiocese who were accused of molesting children, church officials said. Goodness said if the archbishop had known about the Maloney complaints and others, he would have taken the same action.
But in the next decade, Myers would again say that relying on his vicar general had kept him in the dark about the two abuse cases he confronted that attracted the greatest controversy. He would again point to sloppy record keeping and he would face criticism from parishioners who knew nothing about the histories of problem priests in their midst.
The Rev. Wladyslaw Gorak, a Polish immigrant, came to work in the Newark Archdiocese in 1998, the same year an Elizabeth pastor filed a complaint with church officials alleging that he had sexually harassed several female parish volunteers and employees. Six years later, when Myers allowed Gorak to work in a Florida diocese, then-vicar general Arthur Serratelli — now the bishop of the Paterson Diocese — vouched for the priest in an affidavit, saying he never had any complaints of inappropriate behavior.
That year, a Florida parishioner said she was sexually assaulted by Gorak in her home. She sued the archdiocese. In a 2009 deposition taken by her lawyer, Myers, citing a paperwork error and reliance on Serratelli, said officials had “no knowledge” of the earlier complaints until they surfaced in her lawsuit and that they were not in his personnel file. The woman reached a settlement with the archdiocese for an undisclosed sum, her attorney said.
Ken Mullaney, a lawyer for the Paterson Diocese, said that Serratelli reviewed the archdiocese’s personnel files on Gorak before signing the affidavit, and he did not know about the 1998 complaint, which was later found in a parish file.
“Bishop Serratelli acted appropriately,” Mullaney said. “He reviewed the file, he did not have any access to that internal memo.”
Myers has since revoked Gorak’s ability to be a priest in the Newark Archdiocese and, Goodness said, because they have severed ties with him, archdiocese officials do not know where Gorak is. He has since changed his name to Walter Fisher, according to court records.
Myers also held his vicar general to account in the case of the Rev. Michael Fugee.
Fugee was found guilty in 2003 of sexually abusing a teenage boy, who said the priest had groped him on numerous occasions while serving in Wyckoff. But his conviction was reversed three years later over a judicial error. To avoid a retrial, Fugee and vicar general John E. Doran signed an agreement with prosecutors barring him from ministering to or having unsupervised contact with children.
In May of this year, Fugee was arrested for allegedly violating that agreement numerous times by attending youth group retreats and hearing confessions of children throughout New Jersey.
Initially, the archbishop’s spokesman defended Fugee’s affiliations with youth groups, contending that he never was unsupervised during those outings. But the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office launched a continuing investigation into whether Fugee and the archdiocese had violated the agreement.
Soon after, Fugee stepped down from two archdiocesan jobs and public ministry. He wrote in his resignation letter that he never informed the archdiocese about his youth group excursions.
Myers claims he knew nothing about the activities until they were reported in the press, but he accepted Doran’s resignation as vicar general when the news emerged, citing unspecified protocol violations.
“We are not a police agency. Don’t hold us responsible,” said Michael Critchley, a high-profile criminal defense lawyer the archdiocese hired in the Fugee case. “We’re not guarantors of where a person is 24 hours a day.”
With Fugee and another Bergen County case, Myers has supplied little information to the public about accused priests.
After Myers returned Fugee, who had been on leave, to the ministry in 2009 — deciding the groping allegations “did not rise to the level of sexual abuse” — the archbishop assigned him to work at a Newark hospital as a chaplain. Hospital administrators learned of Fugee’s past from a press inquiry from The Star-Ledger and demanded his removal.
Fugee later was assigned to live in the rectory of a Rochelle Park church, where church officials acknowledge parishioners were not told of his restrictions. The archdiocese removed him from the rectory in February after questioning by The Record.
The archdiocese similarly did not alert members of an Oradell parish that the Rev. Robert Chabak, who was allowed to live in the church rectory there, had been removed from ministry in 2004 on “sufficient evidence” that he abused a teenage boy. After an uproar this summer, the pastor of the church stepped down.
In his recent letter to priests in the archdiocese, Myers blamed the ongoing controversy on the media, politicians and victims advocates with an “animus” for the church.
“For any who set out to claim that I or the Church have no effective part in the love and protection of children, is simply evil, wrong, immoral, and seemingly focused on their own self-aggrandizement,” he wrote. “God only knows their personal reasons and agenda. We are still called to love them. And God will surely address them in due time.”
At the parish level, though, questions about Myers’ leadership remain. Dr. Lino Mier, a parishioner at Our Lady of Visitation in Paramus, one of the many churches Fugee visited to hear children’s confessions, said in an August interview that he was dismayed by Myers’ explanations in the Maloney and Fugee cases.
“I personally think it’s been a coverup on his part,” Mier said. “You can’t be too blind about this. The public cannot be easily fooled.”