St. Joseph High School Sued by Somerset Man Claiming Sexual Abuse by Priest
By Nick Muscavage
July 22, 2020
METUCHEN – A former St. Joseph High School student is suing the Diocese of Metuchen claiming he was sexually abused and "groomed" for 16 years by a Catholic priest while enrolled at the private school.
The victim, from the Somerset section of Franklin Township, filed the lawsuit on July 10 in Middlesex County Superior Court and names the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton, St. Joseph High School, and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart as defendants. The name of the victim, who is now an adult, is being withheld by My Central Jersey because he was a minor at the time he said he was sexually abused by Rev. Frank Iazzetta.
The victim, represented by attorney Jay Silvio Mascolo of RAM Law, claims he was first sexually abused by Iazzetta when he became a freshman student at St. Joe's.
Some of the sexual abuse occurred on the grounds of St. Joe’s, including on the school campus and at Iazzetta’s residence at St. Joe’s, according to the lawsuit. Iazzetta’s sexual abuse of the victim "occurred during activities that were sponsored by, or were a direct result" of activities sponsored by the dioceses, St. Joe’s and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
The lawsuit claims that St. Joe's, which is operated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton "knew or should have known that Father Iazzetta was a known sexual abuser of children."
Iazzetta, who died in 2007, was named in 2019 by the Diocese of Trenton as a priest who was "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse. The diocese said Iazzetta had "multiple" victims.
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation, our prayers are with all survivors of abuse, today and always, and we stand with them in their journey toward healing and hope," Anthony P. Kearns III, spokesperson and chancellor for the Diocese of Metuchen, said in a statement. "With God’s grace, all survivors of abuse, particularly those wounded by members of the Church, will continue to heal and move forward. Our diocese renews our commitment to prevent these types of abuse from ever happening again."
During the course of Iazzetta's priesthood in New Jersey, he "exploited the trust and authority" vested in him by the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart by grooming the victim to gain his trust and to obtain control over him as part of his plan to sexually molest and abuse the victim "and other children," according to the lawsuit.
The sexual abuse continued through all four years of the victim's attendance at St. Joe’s, according to the lawsuit.
Based on the representations of the dioceses, St. Joe’s, and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart that Iazzetta was "safe and trustworthy," the victim's parents allowed him to be under the supervision of Iazzetta.
Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded the victim for coming forward with his lawsuit.
"Father Iazzetta has a long history of serving in schools and parishes in the Trenton Diocese," Crawford said. "I hope others who may have been harmed by Father Iazzetta step forward, seek healing and not suffer in silence any longer."
He also called on anyone else who may have been harmed by a member of the clergy to call state Attorney General's clergy abuse reporting line at 855-363-6548.
According to the lawsuit, the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton, St. Joe’s and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart "concealed the sexual abuse of children by priests and others in order to conceal their own bad acts in failing to protect children from being abused, to protect their reputation, and to prevent victims of such sexual abuse from coming forward during the extremely limited statute of limitations prior to the enactment of the recent amendment that allows [the victim] to pursue his claim now, despite knowing that those priests and other persons would continue to molest children."
The victim's parents would not have allowed him to be under the supervision the Iazzetta if the dioceses, St. Joe’s and Brothers of the Sacred Heart had disclosed that Iazzetta was "not safe and was not trustworthy, and that he in fact posed a danger" and was "likely to sexually abuse" the victim, according to the lawsuit.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of a lawsuit against the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and Saint Joseph High School alleging sexual abuse by Father Frank Iazetta, who died in 2007," the Brothers of the Sacred Heart said in a statement. "Father Iazetta, who was never a member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, last served on the faculty at St. Joseph in 1974. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart and Saint Joseph High School share a common mission of promoting the positive growth and development of young people in all aspects of their lives. We abhor any actions that are contrary to that mission."
The religious order said it is "deeply committed to protecting the safety and wellbeing of all our students and any young people that come to our campuses" through a "sexual abuse prevention" program.
The victim's lawsuit charges five counts, including violation of the state Child Sex Abuse Act, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is seeking compensation for damages and injuries and legal fees.
Iazzetta, according to online records, was also assigned to: Sacred Heart in New Brunswick; St. Paul in Princeton; Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade; St. Elizabeth in Avon; Holy Trinity in Long Branch; St. Ann in Browns Mills; Holy Angels in Trenton; and St. Veronica in Howell.
In addition to St. Joe's, Iazzetta served as faculty at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville and St. Rose High School in Belmar, according to online records.
Iazzetta, who was ordained in 1968, was asked to resign as pastor of Holy Trinity in 1982. He left New Jersey in 1986 to serve as a priest in Tennessee before taking a leave of absence and dying six years later.