New accuser names former Cardinal McCarrick as dozens of lawsuits are filed under NJ law
By Abbott Koloff
North Jersey Record
December 1, 2019
|Theodore McCarrick, pictured in this file photo from October 1997, was listed by the church as being credibly accused of child sexual abuse. |
Photo by Steve Auchard
|Thomas Ganley, a former Iselin priest, with his attorney recently|
Photo by Suzanne Russell
The first wave of lawsuits was filed Sunday under a new state law that opened the way for perhaps hundreds of people to bring sex abuse claims against the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and other institutions.
They included a new accuser saying in court papers that he was abused as a child growing up in Hackensack by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once one of the most powerful leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church. McCarrick was defrocked earlier this year amid allegations that he sexually abused minors and harassed adult seminarians.
Other lawsuits named a New Brunswick priest who had not been publicly accused before Sunday and a Paterson priest who had been investigated for alleged abuse years ago and then reinstated.
Those were the first of at least 20 accusations expected to be made against clergy members who were not on a list of nearly 200 credibly accused clerics released by New Jersey's five Catholic dioceses earlier this year, based on a survey of more than half a dozen law firms.
Dozens of lawsuits were filed electronically on Sunday, according to attorneys, with many more anticipated on Monday, when state courts are scheduled to be open for business. Victims' advocates and attorneys have been preparing for this day for months, ever since Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in May that makes it much easier to win sex abuse suits by giving survivors more time to bring accusations, doing away with restrictions that had barred such lawsuits.
Under the previous law, people had two years to file from the time they realized they had been harmed by abuse. The new law extends the statute of limitations, allowing people to file civil suits until they turn 55 years old or seven years after they recognize damage from abuse.
Starting Dec. 1, lawsuits may be filed without any restrictions for the next two years while the statute of limitations is suspended.
It is not clear whether the new allegations against McCarrick could be criminally prosecuted.
Many cases of alleged sex abuse by Catholic clergy were never pursued by police because the criminal statute of limitations had run out by the time they were called. New Jersey lifted those restrictions for the most serious sex offenses in 1996. Some allegations from before that time also may be prosecuted under certain circumstances.
The lawsuit against McCarrick said the alleged abuse occurred in “approximately 1995 or 1996” and that the cleric “inflicted unpermitted harmful and offensive bodily sexual contact” on the accuser, who was 13 or 14 years old and did not consent. The alleged abuse took place “on the premises of a parish” while McCarrick was presiding over a ceremony as archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese. The court papers did not provide other details about the abuse.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson of Minnesota and Greg Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg have scheduled a press conference Monday to discuss the lawsuit.
McCarrick, who has been living at a friary in Kansas, has in the past denied allegations made against him. He did not immediately respond to a message left at the friary Sunday seeking comment.
Another New Jersey man, James Grein, filed a lawsuit in New York this year accusing McCarrick of abusing him as a child while the cleric worked for the Archdiocese of New York. Grein’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, has said some of the abuse took place at his client’s Tenafly home and that he also plans to file a lawsuit in New Jersey. The attorney said last week that he was waiting until Monday to file lawsuits under the new law.
One lawsuit filed Sunday named Father Eladio Sanchez, in what appears to be the first public allegation made against the priest, alleging that he sexually abused a boy in the rectory and attic of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in New Brunswick. The accuser, who now lives in Brooklyn, according to court papers, was between 11 and 14 years old when the abuse allegedly took place from 1979 to 1982.
New Brunswick attorney Jay Mascolo said he sent a letter to the Metuchen Diocese in July indicating that he was representing a man who named Sanchez as his abuser.
The diocese said in a statement that “as soon as the complaint was received” it “immediately reported the matter to the Prosecutor’s Office and has been fully cooperating with law enforcement.” The diocese declined to provide additional information about the priest.
Mascolo’s firm, working with a Seattle law firm, filed 38 lawsuits on Sunday. He said 15 of them named Catholic clergy members and 21 were related to the Boy Scouts. They were all filed on Sunday shortly after midnight.
"A lot of them had been waiting 20 or 30 years,” Mascolo said of his clients. “A lot of them couldn’t wait any longer.”
One of the lawsuits accused a former Paterson priest, Andrew Perretta, who was not on the church’s list of credibly accused clerics. Perretta worked at St. Mary Help of Christians Church when he allegedly abused a boy who was between 9 and 16 years old from 1979 through 1986.
Diocese officials, according to the lawsuit, were told of the abuse in 1996 but did not find the allegations credible. They reopened the case in 2004 when Perretta was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
Kenneth Mullaney, the Paterson Diocese general counsel, said Sunday that the priest was “cleared” but that he didn’t have records available to him at home. Perretta had denied the allegations at the time.
“He had that one accusation, and that was it,” Mullaney said.
Perretta, who is living at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton, made a brief statement when contacted by phone Sunday. "There was an ecclesiastical trial and I was exonerated," he said.
The accuser, John Masker, who lives in Minnesota, filed a statement with law enforcement alleging abuse in 1996 but was told that the criminal statute of limitations had run out. He said he testified before a church tribunal hearing the case in 2004 and was later told the priest was reinstated.
Filing the lawsuit was “nerve-wracking,” he said Sunday, adding, “I really think it’s going to be a good thing this time around.”
Mascolo also filed a lawsuit that names a former Iselin priest, Thomas Ganley, who was sentenced this year to four years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault of a teenage girl in a separate criminal case.
Ganley was the first priest to be arrested in connection with an investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic clerics being conducted by the New Jersey state attorney general.
The lawsuit filed Sunday alleges that a Michigan priest, Robert Witkowski, brought a boy, who was between 13 and 16 years old, to St. Cecelia parish in Iselin in the early 1990s. At the church, the suit alleges, “Father Witkowski and Father Ganley would sexually abuse Plaintiff and other boys.”
Church officials removed Witkowski from his ministry in Michigan last year, saying he had been credibly accused of child sex abuse. Ganley was arrested in January after a woman called police and told them she had been sexually abused by the priest in the 1990s when she was 14 to 17 years old, according to criminal court records.
The woman was prompted to call police after the priest unexpectedly “knocked on her door,” said her attorney, Adam Horowitz, who is based in Florida. He said the woman believes the priest wanted “to see if she was talking” to police and that before the visit “it wasn’t on her radar.”
Horowitz said the woman is among 25 of his New Jersey clients who have filed claims with a compensation program for victims established by the state’s five Catholic dioceses. He said they are waiting to see what the program will pay before deciding whether to file lawsuits.
In addition to new civil complaints, the change in the law will make it easier for accusers to continue with lawsuits already filed but not resolved, according to legal experts.
The sponsor of the law, Sen. Joseph Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex County, and several attorneys said pending lawsuits would fall under the new rules, which would allow them to move through the courts without accusers' having to prove that their claims fall within the civil statute of limitations.
Mullaney, the Paterson Diocese attorney, agreed, saying, “I think they would be covered by the law, no question.” In some cases, he said, defense attorneys might require lawsuits to be refiled, but added that he would not require that.
“I don’t see what that exercise would accomplish,” he said.