New lawsuit claims former Cardinal McCarrick abused boy in Hackensack
By James M. O'neill And Deena Yellin
NorthJersey.com via Asbury Park Press
December 8, 2019
|John Bellocchio, center, with attorneys Jeff Anderson, far left, and Trusha Goffe, far right, announces his lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark for sexual abuse he suffered as a teenager by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who was the Archbishop of Newark at the time. Bellocchio held the press conference on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Newark. |
Photo by Danielle Parhizkaran
|Attorney Jeff Anderson holds a packet containing a list of priests from the Archdiocese of New Jersey accused of sexual misconduct that Anderson has found through his investigation. |
Photo by Danielle Parhizkaran
John Bellocchio was an altar boy at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Hackensack when Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abused him during a visit to the parish, the businessman told reporters on Monday.
Bellocchio, a 14-year-old at the time, who had grown up in a devout Roman Catholic family, initially felt "honored" to be in the presence of the leader of the Newark Archdiocese, he said at a Newark news conference.
But then McCarrick, one of the most influential Catholic prelates in the U.S., assaulted him in the vestibule of the church, Bellocchio alleged in a lawsuit filed this weekend. Now 37, Bellocchio said he has suffered from anxiety ever since, including panic attacks that sometimes demand medical intervention.
His lawsuit was one of at least eight filed against the Newark Archdiocese or the neighboring Paterson Diocese as of Monday, the day after a new state law temporarily lifted New Jersey's statute of limitations on sex abuse complaints. Hundreds more are expected against the state's five Catholic dioceses, the Boy Scouts of America and other institutions long accused of covering up such cases.
"When it comes to the truth, there is nothing to hide. That's why I've chosen to do this without anonymity," Bellocchio said. "It's time for the Catholic Church to clean house from the top down.
"They have a moral responsibility to do it and to do it now," he said.
Along with Bellocchio's suit, complaints alleged abuses by a former Garfield pastor, a Union City priest and a church organist in Cranford. At least 20 suits were filed alleging abuse by Boy Scouts officials in the state.
Bellocchio's attorneys, Jeff Anderson of Minnesota and Greg Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg, filed the complaint, believed to be the first litigation against McCarrick. The suit also names the Newark Archdiocese and seeks unspecified damages.
Anderson said at the news conference that he is aware of at least seven other alleged victims of abuse by the former cardinal.
McCarrick, 89, was defrocked in February and is currently living in a friary in Kansas. He did not immediately respond to messages from NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey seeking comment.
While the lawsuit doesn't explicitly name them, it asserts that Vatican officials, including Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, were aware of the allegations against McCarrick by seminarians and children but ignored them until 2018, when accusations became public.
"He never would have been able to rise up the ranks the way he did without their consent," Bellocchio said.
Victims' advocates and attorneys have been preparing for this week ever since May, when Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that suspends the statute of limitations for two years. Before Sunday, people had two years to file from the time they realized they had been harmed by abuse. New Jersey's new law permits alleged child sex abuse victims to sue until age 55, or within seven years of their realization of harm.
Gianforcaro noted that this case is important because "whether a teacher, priest or cardinal, someone that abused a child, as well as the institution that harbored him, will be held accountable for the abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society."
In a statement, the Newark Archdiocese said it "will continue to cooperate and work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations made and bring closure to victims." The state's Catholic dioceses have also established an independent fund to offer compensation to victims, the archdiocese added. People who use the fund must give up their right to sue.
Anderson said his firm planned to file two more priest abuse cases Monday and dozens more in the coming weeks.
A criminal case could also be brought against McCarrick, but that decision would be up to a prosecutor, the attorney said.
Bellocchio appeared resolute during the morning press conference at a Newark hotel. But he told reporters he had suffered a panic attack that morning that was so severe he required medical care. Anderson did not permit reporters to question his client and quickly ushered him out of the room after his brief speech so he could return to the hospital.
Among other suits that were filed Sunday and Monday:
• A plaintiff identified only as T.C. alleges sexual abuse by the Rev. Joseph F.X. Cevetello in 1976 or 1977, when Cevetello was pastor at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Garfield and T.C. was about 13.
The suit alleges that T.C.’s family arranged for private sessions with Cevetello to prepare T.C. for his first Holy Communion. During these one-on-one sessions in the rectory, Cevetello allegedly assaulted T.C., including “grabbing Plaintiff’s genitalia, pressing his body against plaintiff from behind, and frottage. Father Cevetello had an erection during these sexual assaults,” the suit alleges.
Cevetello is not on the list of credibly accused priests that the Archdiocese of Newark released earlier this year. He retired in 1979 and died in 1985 at age 65. He had been a theology instructor at Seton Hall University; Seton Hall Prep, then in South Orange; Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair; and Consolata Theological Seminary in Somerville. Before being assigned to the parish in Garfield, he had been assigned to churches in Jersey City, Bayonne and Montclair, according to the complaint.
• Jeffrey McCloskey, who now lives in Mesa County, Colorado, alleges he was abused when he was 13 or 14 by Father Robert Chabak at Christ the King Church in Hillside from 1983 through 1984. The suit alleges that Chabak, who is already on the archdiocese list of credibly accused priests, committed the abuse when McCloskey was serving as an altar boy, when he worked in the rectory and on trips that Chabak organized.
The suit also alleges that the archdiocese transferred Chabak to Christ the King after he was alleged to have sexually abused a boy at a nearby church. In 2004, Chabak was removed from ministry.
• Not all suits against the church involved activity by priests. In one suit, Michael Yochim, who now lives in Somerset County, alleges that he was sexually abused when he was 11 or 12 by Steven Ginefra, a church organist at St. Michael’s Church in Cranford.
The molestation allegedly took place from 1974 to 1975, during and after church activities when Ginefra was the organist. Ginefra would have Yochim “sit on his lap while he played the organ in the balcony and he would sexually abuse him,” the suit says.
Ginefra is currently listed as the director of music and church organist at Our Lady of Peace parish in New Providence. Efforts to reach him Monday were unsuccessful.
• Mark and Timothy Drennan allege in separate suits that they were sexually abused decades ago by Father John Morel when he was affiliated with Holy Family parish and Holy Family High School in Union City. Morel is on the list of credibly accused priests.
Timothy Drennan’s suit alleges that in the spring of 1969, he went over to his cousin’s home for lunch and was introduced to Morel by his aunt. Morel then allegedly invited Drennan, who was 9 or 10 at the time, into a bedroom for “confession.” “Instinctively trusting Fr. Morel as a priest,” the suit alleges, Drennan followed Morel to the bedroom, “where he was instructed to lie down. Fr. Morel then proceeded to sexually abuse” Drennan “and perform oral sex.”
The suit notes that Morel, who died in 2016, was accused in a 1993 lawsuit of sexually abusing a child while stationed in the Archdiocese of Camden, and in 1995 he pleaded guilty to harassment by touching and was sentenced to six months of probation.
Mark Drennan’s suit alleges that Morel sexually abused him in the family’s home from about 1963 to 1970, when Drennan was ages 5 to 12. Mark Drennan’s suit said Morel would ask Drennan to go to one of the bedrooms he shared with his siblings so Morel could hear confession.
“It was through this ruse that Fr. Morel would coerce” Drennan “into sexual physical encounters including where Fr. Morel would perform oral sex on” Drennan, the suit says. It alleges Morel performed oral sex on Drennan “on almost a daily and weekly basis.”