Clergy sex-abuse lawsuits filed against Camden, Trenton dioceses

By Jim Walsh
Cherry Hill Courier-Post
December 18, 2019

A lawsuit accuses a former priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Maple Shade of sexually abusing a child in the 1970s.
Photo by Jim Walsh

The Rev. Joseph McHugh is accused of sexually abusing a young parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Maple Shade between 1979 and 1984.
Photo by Jim Walsh

Six lawsuits filed this month allege childhood sexual abuse in previous decades at eight South Jersey parishes, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade.
Photo by Jim Walsh

A steeple rises above Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Maple Shade.
Photo by Jim Walsh

A cross towers over Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Maple Shade.
Photo by Jim Walsh

Six men have come forward with allegations of childhood sex abuse by Catholic clergy in South Jersey.

The accusers all say they were targeted in the 1970s and '80s by clerics who exploited their trust and assaulted their bodies.

They are suing the dioceses of Camden and Trenton under a new state law that allows civil actions for sex-abuse claims previously barred by a statute of limitations.

At least eight priests or Catholic brothers from South Jersey parishes are named in six suits filed in state court since Dec. 1.

Two suits claim wrongdoing by separate priests at a Paulsboro parish, including one who allegedly continued his abuse after moving to a church in Cherry Hill.

In another, a former altar boy alleges he was abused by three priests in Collingswood and Magnolia.

A fourth suit names a former Maple Shade priest who now appears on the Trenton diocese’s list of credibly accused clerics.

Separate lawsuits allege wrongdoing by two Catholic brothers at parishes in Florence and Pleasantville.

Many of the accusers are breaking decades of silence, said Jay Mascolo, a New Brunswick attorney who filed four of the local suits

“They feel like they finally have a chance to have their story told, like somebody’s on their side,” he said Wednesday. “They feel very empowered.”

“My clients are ecstatic,” added Gregory Gianforcaro, a Warren County attorney who brought lawsuits against the Catholic brothers.

At the same time, he noted, “Coming forward…takes an enormous amount of courage.”

Diocesan representatives declined to comment on the pending litigation, but said church officials are focused on protecting children and helping victims of clergy sex abuse.

Among other measures, the Camden diocese requires fingerprinting and background checks for all persons who come into regular contact with minors, said spokesman Michael Walsh.

“We have also reinforced the training of staff and children to recognize the warning signs of abuse,” he said.

The Trenton diocese, in a statement released one day before the law took effect, said it is “making every effort” to prevent sexual abuse “within the Catholic Church and its institutions.”

The lawsuits accuse the dioceses of failing to protect children and allegedly concealing crimes by parish priests.

Many of the parishes in the lawsuits have been merged out of existence, but the trauma of childhood abuse endures, according to attorneys for the accusers.

Youngsters abused by priests suffered "severe emotional and psychological distress and personal physical injury,” allege the lawsuits filed by Mascolo.

The emotional impact includes humiliation, depression, family turmoil and loss of faith, the suits assert.

The lawsuits detail claims by two men — John Collins and Joseph Pierzynski — of sex abuse by priests at the former St. John the Evangelist parish in Paulsboro.

Collins, a former altar boy, claims he was abused by the Rev. Patrick Weaver from 1974 through 1978.

The Mercer County resident says he was 8 to 13 years old at the time of the abuse.

His suit contends the abuse continued after Weaver was transferred from Paulsboro to the Church of St. Mary in Cherry Hill, because the priest would invite the boy and his family to visit him.

“Father Weaver sexually abused (Collins) at St. Mary,” it alleges.

Pierzynski, now a Burlington County resident, claims he was abused by the Rev. Norman T. Connelly in 1978 and 1979, when he was 14 and 15 years old.

His lawsuit notes the Camden diocese has identified Connelly “as being credibly accused of child sexual abuse and it removed him from ministry many years after he sexually abused (Pierzynski).”

An Arizona man, Robert Boyle, is suing over alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Joseph McHugh at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade.

His suit claims the incidents occurred from 1979 through 1984 “at the OLPH church and in the rectory, and in hotel rooms.”

It says Boyle was 11 to 16 years old during that period.

McHugh appears on the Trenton diocese’s list of clerics credibly accused of child sex abuse, which notes he served at seven parishes.

"In 2006, he pled guilty to sexually molesting a nine-year-old child in 1994,” the lawsuit says.

A Gloucester County man, John Honrychs, is suing over alleged abuse in 1974 by three priests – the Revs. Jay Shannon, John Kelly and John Bernard.

Honrychs, then a 12-year-old, was abused at two former parishes, St. John’s in Collingswood and St. Gregory’s in Magnolia, the suit alleges.

It says some assaults occurred during “trips that were organized by the priests for altar boys and church youth members."

All three priests are on the Camden diocese’ list of clerics credibly abused of child sex abuse.

Of the defendants, only Bernard is still living, the lawsuit says. It notes he was removed from ministry “many years after” the alleged abuse of Honrychs.

In the other suits, Ocean County resident Todd Kostrub alleges he was abused as a child at the former Holy Assumption parish in Florence.

His suit alleges Brother Kurt Munn, a member of the Franciscan Friars, “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with Kostrub from about 1972 to 1982.

Kostrub was 7 to 17 years old during the alleged abuse.

And a man identified only as JA.GG Doe 1 contends he was abused by Brother Walter Hicks at St. Peter’s parish in Pleasantville, Atlantic County.

The abuse by Hicks, a member of the Brothers of Charity, allegedly occurred from 1978 to 1980, when the accuser was around 7 to 9 years old, the suit says.

Under the former “extremely limited” statute of limitations, victims of childhood sexual abuse typically had to sue by their 20th birthday, said Mascolo.

But that rarely happened as accusers would hide their experiences from family and friends, added the attorney, who also sued the Diocese of Trenton this month over alleged clergy sex abuse in Lakewood and Tuckerton, Ocean County, and in Asbury Park, Monmouth County.

His lawsuits also argue church officials kept the behavior of abusive priests a secret "in order to conceal their own bad acts in failing to protect children.”

Some accusers previously used legal arguments in efforts to circumvent the two-year limit.

A Philadelphia man, 29-year-old Justin Hoffman, earlier this year sued the Camden diocese over alleged childhood sex abuse at a parish in Ventnor. Hoffman said his suit should be allowed because he sued within two years of realizing the “causal relationship” between the abuse and ongoing problems in his life.

Other accusers have said the deadline should be waived because they had repressed all memories of sexual abuse.

Attorneys say more suits will be filed during a two-year window of opportunity provided by the new law.

Gianforcaro, for instance, notes his firm represents more than 100 “brave survivors.”

“We are concerned that no client gets lost in the shuffle,” he said. "And for that reason we are going to be taking our time and filing each case individually."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.