Lawsuit Alleges Abuse by Another Legendary Staten Island Priest, This Time Monsignor Gaffney at Sea

By Maura Grunlund
Staten Island Advance
October 9, 2019

Obituary photo for Monsignor Thomas Gaffney (Staten Island Advance)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A former principal and prominent monsignor on Staten Island is accused of sexually abusing a student decades ago at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School in Huguenot.

The allegations against Monsignor Thomas Gaffney, who died in 2004, are detailed in a recent lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of New York and the high school, which is located at 5150 Hylan Blvd. in Huguenot.

The priest is one of three monsignors accused of sexual misconduct who held prominent positions decades ago both at Sea and in the Island Roman Catholic church.

The action that cites Monsignor Gaffney was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan by Jeff Anderson & Associates on Aug. 14, the first day of a one-year window of opportunity for adults of any age who were abused at any time as children to sue their alleged predators.

Monsignor Gaffney is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The accuser, who is kept anonymous in the court filing, was a student about 15 years old when the alleged abuse occurred from about 1980 to 1981. The lawsuit does not specify a gender.

“Fr. Gaffney engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with the victim, who “was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the victim “sustained physical, emotional, and psychological injuries, along with pain and suffering.”

The Archdiocese and the school were negligent in allowing Monsignor Gaffney to be employed in a capacity where he had access to children, alleges the lawsuit.

“Defendants negligently retained Fr. Gaffney with knowledge of Fr. Gaffney’s propensity for the type of behavior which resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries in this action," the lawsuit said.

"Defendants failed to investigate Fr. Gaffney’s past and/or current history of sexual abuse and, through the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of Fr. Gaffney’s propensity for child sexual abuse. Defendants should have made an appropriate investigation of Fr. Gaffney and failed to do so. An appropriate investigation would have revealed the unsuitability of Fr. Gaffney for continued employment and it was unreasonable for Defendants to retain Fr. Gaffney in light of the information they knew or should have known.”


At the time of his death, Monsignor Gaffney was pastor of St. Charles R.C. Church in Oakwood and embroiled in a legal battle prompted by a New Jersey man who went public in January 2004 with allegations he was abused by the priest.

Dan O’Dougherty said that he was abused for three years while he was an altar boy and student at the parish school, according to Advance records. O’Dougherty said the assaults against him often took place where altar servers would vest for mass.

Ordained in 1950, Gaffney Monsignor Gaffney was widely credited for keeping St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School open after he became principal in 1973 during a financial crisis that could have shuttered the school.

Monsignor Gaffney and Monsignor Joseph Ansaldi, another former principal at Sea, were included in a list released on April by the Archdiocese of New York naming about 120 members of the clergy who were either credibly abused of sex abuse against minors or whose cases were deemed eligible for settlements.

Monsignors Gaffney and Ansaldi appear on the list of priests where at least one claim against each was deemed eligible for compensation by the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), even though the accused were unable to defend themselves because they were dead.

Monsignor Ansaldi died in 2015.

No details were provided in the Archdiocese’s list, so it is not known if the allegations investigated were related to their service at St. Joseph by-the-Sea.

“We are not commenting on the individual cases being filed,” said Joseph Zwilling, communications manager for the Archdiocese of New York. “We are continuing to review them, and continue to offer to make available our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to anyone who might wish to explore that option.”








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