Priest Sexually Abused Student More Than 100 Times Decades Ago at N.J. Catholic School, Suit Says
By Anthony G. Attrino
February 18, 2020
The Diocese of Paterson is facing a lawsuit accusing a priest who taught at the now-shuttered Don Bosco Technical High School of sexual abusing a student more than 100 times in the 1970s.
Former priest Sean Rooney abused the student at various locations including the Paterson school from 1973 to 1975 beginning when the victim was 13 years old, according the suit filed Feb. 7 in Superior Court in Bergen County. The victim, identified only by his initials in the suit, is now a Florida resident.
Rooney is not on the list of 188 priests and deacons deemed “credibly accused” of sexual abuses involving children released last year jointly by New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses. The Diocese of Paterson, which did not return messages seeking comment on the suit Monday, had 28 names on that list.
The website bishop-accountability.org, a group that tracks allegations against priest, includes Rooney and notes he was accused in a 2013 lawsuit of a sexually abusing a 14-year-old seminary student at a retreat house in Massachusetts and at a seminary in New York. The Catholic church has been criticized for leaving hundreds of names off its list of credibly accused priests.
Rooney’s last known address is Tempe, Arizona, according to public records. Phone numbers listed for Rooney were disconnected and he could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit filed by the former Don Bosco Technical High School student is another in the flood of allegations since a two-year window opened on Dec. 1 under a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy that vastly expanded the amount of time that victims of sexual assault may bring a lawsuit.
The then-teenage student accused Rooney of "grooming him and giving him special treatment” soon after he enrolled at the school, according to the suit.
“Shortly after their first meeting, Father Rooney began sexually assaulting and abusing (him),” the suit states. “Plaintiff estimates that he was abused by Father Rooney in excess of 100 times.”
Rooney, a chemistry teacher at the school, gave the student alcohol and showed him pornography, the suit said. The sexual abuse occurred at the school, the suit said. Don Bosco Technical High School closed in 2002.
Rooney was ordained in 1959 and assigned to work in New Jersey multiple times, according to the reference resource “The Official Catholic Directory.”
Rooney worked at Don Bosco Technical High School from 1971 to 1975, before he was transferred to Archbishop Shaw High School in New Orleans, where he worked until 1979. He was then transferred to work as a financial administrator and counselor at Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, New York.
In 1981, Rooney was transferred again to New Jersey, where he worked as a counselor for Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey. Rooney was transferred in 1983 to Alabama, where he remained for two decades. He returned to New York in 2003. In 2008, the Salesians of Don Bosco announced Rooney’s “laicization,” or removal from sacred orders as punishment for transgression.
Robert Fazio, president of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, said Monday he had no knowledge of Rooney and could not comment on the lawsuit. The lawsuit does not make any allegations about Rooney’s short time at Don Bosco Prep in the early 1980s.
The school over the past decade has made it a priority to investigate all allegations of sexual abuse, Fazio said.
“Abuse on any level is unacceptable,” Fazio said, adding that the school has embraced the policies and procedures of the “Protecting God’s Children Program.”
In addition to the Paterson Diocese, lawsuit names the Salesians Society and accuses the diocese and the Catholic Church of engaging in a conspiracy to conceal “credible allegations of child sexual abuse against priests.”
The lawsuit alleges officials with the Catholic church transferred Rooney and other priests accused of abusing children rather than report them to police.
The lawsuit claims the school and the church failed to alert parishioners about Rooney’s prior assignments and that “their children were exposed to a known or suspected child molester.”