Cardinal Tobin Says He Wants Transparency, but Is Silent about Result of Some Sex Abuse Cases
By Abbott Koloff
February 14, 2020
|Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the leader of the Newark Archdiocese posted this video message on the Newark Archdiocese web site on Feb. 13, 2019. NorthJersey|
A Catholic church tribunal has arrived at a long-awaited decision in the case of Monsignor George Trabold — more than five years after he stepped down as pastor of a Millburn parish amid allegations of child sex abuse from decades earlier during his time at a parish in Bergen County.
But the Newark Archdiocese declined last week to reveal the verdict in the internal canonical trial.
The archdiocesan response underscored what victims' advocates said has been a continuation of secretive policies even as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the leader of the Newark Archdiocese, has promised to be more open generally and about sex abuse cases in particular.
|George Trabold, pictured in this file photo, who stepped down as pastor of a Short Hills parish after being accused of sexual abuse in Bergen County, was not listed by the church in 2019 as being credibly accused because he had a pending church trial. (Photo: NorthJersey.com)|
Last year, the cardinal said that the Catholic Church's credibility was "shot" in the aftermath of new revelations of sex abuse and cover-ups, and said the archdiocese would take steps to be more transparent to regain public trust. The church, he said, needed a better way forward.
So far, some victims' advocates say, those words have not translated into substantial action, with parishioners and survivors continuing to be left in the dark as secret internal church investigations churn on for years. Tobin, they said, has done little to improve on the performance of his predecessor, Archbishop John J. Myers, when it comes to openness about such cases.
"This is just another example of not being open and honest and transparent," said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. "We've come to expect this type of behavior of Cardinal Tobin. If his true intention is to be better than his predecessor, we want more."
Crawford said that the failure to say more about the Trabold case "is a lack of candor with those in the pews" and that "it's everything we have come to expect for decades."
When asked this month by NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey, the archdiocese declined to provide information about several cases — including the status of an internal sexual assault investigation that was reopened almost two years ago and caused the Rev. James Weiner to leave a Westwood parish. He remained listed as pastor until a new pastor was installed two weeks ago.
The archdiocese told parishioners last month at St. Andrew parish in Westwood that the issue was not resolved — but that "the hope" was to reassign him to ministry "at some point." It did not explain why a return to ministry was being contemplated while the case remained open.
Trabold, meanwhile, was pastor of St. Rose of Lima in the Short Hills section of Millburn when he moved out in 2014 as church officials said they were investigating an allegation of child sex abuse from decades ago. The accuser's attorney said Trabold abused his client at St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield in the 1970s.
It is not clear whether church rules prevent archdiocese officials from discussing the outcome of Trabold's canonical trial — such verdicts must be confirmed by the Vatican before they are considered official. Maria Margiotta, an archdiocesan spokeswoman, recently acknowledged that a decision had been made. As is typical of sex abuse cases, the church trial was conducted by a panel of priests from another diocese.
Cardinal Tobin "is awaiting clarification from the Holy See regarding the decision reached by the Tribunal of another diocese on Monsignor George Trabold," Mariotta told NorthJersey.com in an email.
That statement had been revised from one sent a day earlier in which she said that the archdiocese was waiting for a clarification "from the Holy See and then from civil authorities on the outcome and possible next steps."
Mariotta did not respond when asked why the first statement mentioned civil authorities. The allegations had been referred years ago to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, which determined that the criminal statute of limitations on the allegations from the 1970s had expired.
She also did not respond when asked why the archdiocese would not reveal the Trabold verdict, and declined to provide details about the clarification needed from the Vatican.
|Joseph W. Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, at the Cathedral Basilica of The Sacred Heart. (Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com)|
In a subsequent statement, she wrote that no cleric "credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor is ministering" in the archdiocese, and that she could not answer questions related to "matters that are now or soon could be in litigation, or that are under investigation."
Facing a crisis
The Catholic Church in New Jersey has been facing a crisis — with dozens of sex abuse lawsuits filed in civil court since December, when the state suspended the statute of limitations for such cases. It is also preparing for a state attorney general's report from an ongoing investigation into the way the Catholic Church in New Jersey handled sex abuse cases.
That investigation spurred the state's five dioceses last year to release the names of 188 priests who have been credibly-accused of sex abuse. But that list left out important details — like the number of accusers for each priest, when the alleged abuse took place and in which parishes it occurred.
Crawford said that Tobin and other church leaders were "doing the absolute minimum" by not providing more information. "We want the whole truth," he said. "Until then, don't expect to win back anyone's trust."
Monsignor Ken Lasch, a retired Paterson Diocese priest and a victims' advocate, said Tobin has made "very bold statements" about being more open. He added that the cardinal "seems to be very cautious," adding that "I don't see instances where he is transparent. ... I'm looking for signs."
A canon lawyer, Lasch said church trial verdicts must be confirmed by the Vatican, a process that in the past has taken years in sex abuse cases. Under new rules, Lasch said, such decisions could be made in a matter of months.
When asked this month, the archdiocese declined to provide information not only about Trabold but about three other priests accused of sex abuse and whose internal church cases have taken recent turns.
James Weiner left St. Andrew parish in Westwood in August, 2018 after Tobin decided to reopen an investigation into an allegation that Weiner sexually assaulted a fellow seminarian in the late 1980s. But Weiner continued to be listed as pastor in the church bulletin until late last month. A new pastor took over on Feb. 1.
Mariotta, the archdiocesan spokeswoman, pointed to a statement made to parishioners in December, when the archdiocese said Weiner had offered his resignation as pastor and that it was "in no way an admission of wrongdoing." It said he'd been on a voluntary leave of absence "due to to an ongoing review of a previous allegation of inappropriate behavior."
"The Cardinal looks forward to resolving the allegation regarding Fr. Weiner in the very near future," the statement said. "The hope is that Fr. Weiner will be reassigned at some point to ministry."
Last week, Mariotta declined to say what kind of investigation was conducted and what kind of ministry would be considered for the priest. Weiner was accused of sexually assaulting an adult, not a child. The allegations would not be covered under the 2002 Dallas Charter, an agreement among American bishops to remove from ministry all clergy members accused of abusing children.
"They'll say he did not abuse a child and we treat those cases differently," said Robert Hoatson, a former Newark Archdiocese priest and a victims' advocate.
In 2003, a church review board found the allegations against Weiner to be credible but unsubstantiated. The case was reopened after a friend of the victim came forward to substantiate the claim, saying he had been told about the alleged sexual assault shortly after it occurred.
Giants' team chaplain
The archdiocese also declined to discuss two other cases related to priests who were tried by a church tribunal years ago. The trials were announced by the archdiocese in 2002 at the height of a scandal in the church involving the cover up of abuse cases. Both resulted in acquittals years later.
The two priests were allowed to continue working as clerics, though neither was returned to regular parish work. In each case, new information has led to questions about their status.
William Dowd, a New York Giants football chaplain, left St. Luke parish in Ho-Ho-Kus in 2002 after two men said he abused them when they were children at Immaculate Conception parish in Montclair.
|Giants team chaplain Father Bill Dowd pictured at the Giants Timex Performance Center field house in 2012. (Photo: Thomas E. Franklin/NorthJersey.com)|
A church review board member from that time, Margaret Pipchick, recently said she expected Dowd to be defrocked once the matter was sent to Rome. Instead, the priest was acquitted in a church trial. Dowd returned to the Giants in 2007, later saying it was “just in time to get that Super Bowl ring” in 2008.
In December of 2019, one of the men filed a lawsuit and spoke publicly. The Giants have not said whether the priest would continue working for the team.
“We have not been in communication with Father Dowd since the lawsuit was filed, which is not unusual since we are in our offseason,” a Giants spokesman, Pat Hanlon, said in an email. Dowd was never employed by the team, he said, but the Giants “have used his services in the past as needed.”
Dowd, who is listed as retired by the archdiocese, is not on the list of credibly-accused priests. Mariotta did not respond to requests last week when asked about his status.
In another case, Gerard Sudol had been the subject of a settlement in a sexual abuse claim paid out by the archdiocese years before his case went to a church trial, which resulted in acquittal. When new allegations surfaced in 2018, he moved out of a Jersey City parish where he had been staying.
The new accuser said the priest's sexual misconduct was widely known at St. Francis of Assisi in Ridgefield Park, where Sudol served from 1986 to 1994.
The archdiocese said nothing more about Sudol's status until his name showed up last year on its list of credibly-accused priests. Church officials have declined to say how they determined his status or how many accusers have come forward. He was identified as having abused multiple victims and was permanently removed from ministry.
The archdiocese declined to say whether they they are seeking to have him defrocked.
In the Trabold case, church officials told parishioners more than four years ago that allegations against the priest caused "grave concerns" and that an archdiocese review board recommended seeking Vatican approval to hold a church trial. Trabold, they said, denied the allegations.
|Inside St. John the Evangelist church in Bergenfield. (Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com)|
In an October 2015 letter to the accuser's attorney, they said there was “sufficient information” to back the allegations. Weeks later, in a letter to parishioners at St. Rose in Short Hills and St. John in Bergenfield, they revealed that there had been two allegations out of Bergen County. Law enforcement, they said, determined the criminal statute of limitations had expired.
Greg Gianforcaro, the attorney for the first accuser, said he was surprised when Trabold's name was missing from the list of abusive priests released by church officials last year. The archdiocese said at the time that Trabold wasn't on the list because a church trial had not yet concluded.
Gianforcaro said his client received a settlement from the archdiocese in 2016. He did not specify the amount.
“There was no doubt about the veracity of my client’s claim,” Gianforcaro said, adding that his client testified before a church review board where he was “extremely well-spoken and very clear as to what happened.”
The archdiocese has never provided additional details about the second claim against Trabold, including where and when the alleged abuse took place.
Gianforcaro said his client, who also had testified before a tribunal of priests at a hearing held in Newark, had not been apprised of the outcome.
Trabold, who could not be reached for comment, grew up in North Jersey and was ordained in 1973. He was first assigned to St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield from 1973 to 1977. Later, he held a top administrative post in the Archdiocese of Newark, as secretary for canonical affairs and development under then Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
Trabold returned to Bergenfield as pastor of St. John the Evangelist from 1994 to 1998, and was then transferred to be pastor at St. Rose of Lima in Short Hills.
Abbott Koloff is an investigative reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his watchdog work that safeguards our communities and democracy, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.