Former NY Giants chaplain accused of sexually abusing Montclair girl as nuns held her down

By Deena Yellin And Abbott Koloff
Bergen Record via
November 30, 2020

New York Giants team chaplain Father Bill Dowd pictured outside the Giants Timex Performance Center field house in 2012.

Mary Joy Morgan is on the right at her confirmation. Sister Maria Michael Garner is behind her.

Sister Maria Michael Garner in 1998

[with video]

A priest who until last year worked as the New York Giants team chaplain has been accused in a lawsuit filed last week of sexually assaulting a young girl as two nuns held her down at a Montclair parish decades ago.

The priest, William Dowd, had been removed from ministry almost 20 years ago, after two men accused him of sexually abusing them as children at the same Montclair parish — but he was reinstated in 2007 after being acquitted in a church trial.

One of those men filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark last year accusing Dowd of abuse — a complaint that was settled last month with a payment to the plaintiff, according to the man's lawyer, Greg Gianforcaro. He declined to specify the amount.

In the latest suit, filed Tuesday, a woman alleges that she was abused by two nuns at the Immaculate Conception parish school in 1969, when she was 8 years old. The woman says that two years later, in 1971, the two nuns took her to Dowd and held her down by her arms and legs while the priest raped her in the parish's Madonna Hall.Mary Joy Morgan of Montclair, who is named in court documents as the plaintiff, described the alleged abuse and its aftermath to The Record and through her attorney, John Baldante, who said he preferred to speak for his client. The attorney said she told a therapist about the abuse years ago and in 2018 reported it to a priest at the Montclair church, which is now called St. Teresa of Calcutta.

"He told her to report it," Baldante said, adding that the priest's encouragement led her to seek legal counsel.

Joseph Hayden, a Hackensack attorney who represents Dowd, said the priest "categorically and unequivocally denies the sensational and outlandish allegations of events that are 50 years old." He declined to comment on the settlement in the other case or to say whether Dowd, who lives in Brick, is allowed to work as a priest.

Morgan's lawsuit was filed under a law that took effect on Dec. 1, 2019, suspending the statute of limitations in civil sex abuse cases for two years and leading to nearly 250 lawsuits being filed so far against the state's five Catholic dioceses. It is the second lawsuit filed under the law naming Dowd as an abuser.

The lawsuit accuses two nuns of participating in the abuse with Dowd. Sister Maria Michael Garner, who was a teacher and administrator at Immaculate Conception Elementary School, allegedly abused Morgan in the nun's office several times a week starting in 1969. The suit says that in 1971 another nun, Sister Alice Bernadette, helped Garner restrain the girl while she was being abused by the priest.

The nuns, who are deceased, took Morgan to Dowd for the first time when she was 10 years old, the lawsuit says. After that incident, Baldante said, "virtually all of the abuse was committed by him." Dowd continued abusing the girl until 1975, the suit says, when she transferred to another school.

The Newark Archdiocese spokeswoman, Maria Margiotta, has declined to provide information about Dowd's status as a priest, including whether he is allowed to wear the clerical collar and to perform priestly functions in public.

She did not respond to questions about the recent settlement and the new accusations against Dowd and the two nuns. She said it would be "inappropriate for the Archdiocese of Newark to discuss or comment on matters in litigation, or under investigation, or concluded settlements with victims."

"I think what you're seeing is this repeated pattern by the church of avoidance and hiding the truth," Baldante said. "They conceal information, and retreat to their corners and hide the truth from the public."

Garner, who died in 2014, was a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Morris Township, according to her obituary. She had undergraduate and master's degrees in education. One of her brothers was Robert F. Garner, an auxiliary bishop of the Newark Archdiocese and first vicar of Bergen County, who died in 2000.

She was the principal of Immaculate Conception and taught at several schools in North Jersey parishes, including St. Paul in Clifton, St. Mary in Dumont, Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange and Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Maplewood, where she was principal. She also served as a volunteer at St. Vincent nursing home in Cedar Grove.

The Sisters of Charity said Garner and Sister Alice Bernadette had been members of their religious community, and had not been the subject of any prior accusations.

The archdiocese removed Dowd from ministry in April 2002 after the first allegation of abuse was made to church officials. He was the pastor of St. Luke parish in Ho-Ho-Kus at the time. A church response team reviewed the matter, hearing from two men who said they were abused years before at Immaculate Conception in Montclair. 

A woman who was a member of the response team has told The Record and that the allegations were credible, and that the men separately provided similar details about the rectory where they said they had been abused. The response team determined that the case warranted further action.

However, Dowd was acquitted by a panel of three priests from outside the Newark Archdiocese after a 2005 hearing. Church officials at the Vatican in Rome approved the decision in 2007. He was not returned to ministry in a parish, archdiocese officials said at the time, because of the "notoriety" of the case.

He returned to the Giants, leading Bible studies and counseling players during a season that ended with the team's Super Bowl victory in 2008. In 2012, he told The Record and that he had returned "just in time to get that Super Bowl ring."

The Giants declined to say this week whether the priest would be allowed to continue working for the team. "All I can tell you is that we have not used Father Dowd’s services in over a year," said Pat Hanlon, a team spokesman. He said Dowd last worked for the team "sometime mid-fall of 2019."

In December 2019, one of the original accusers from Montclair filed a lawsuit. That suit has been withdrawn because the case was settled by a program established by the state's dioceses to compensate victims who agree not to pursue lawsuits.

The plaintiff in that case, James Gilson, has said Dowd began abusing him in 1967, when he was 12 years old. Dowd allegedly gave him alcohol and abused him in the priest's bedroom, later saying, "Jimmy, why did you make me do that?" The abuse allegedly continued to 1972.

Morgan said in her lawsuit that the abuse led to depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, shame and anger issues. She said she has had trouble in her relationships and suffered from drug and alcohol abuse.

"Her story is a disturbing one," Baldante said. "She does want the story of Father Dowd to be out there. It sounds like there was a network in the church that was complicit."

He said his client continues to attend the Montclair church.

"She comes from a family that's very devoutly Catholic," Baldante said. "She continues to have faith despite everything she has been through."



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