Three Charge Catholic Church with Conspiracy to Hide Abuse

By Jim Walsh
Camden Courier-Post
June 10, 1993

Three men are suing the Catholic Church under a federal racketeering law, accusing officials of conspiring to conceal sexual assaults against children by clergy.

"No child should have to suffer the way I did," said plaintiff Terrence Smith, 39, adding that he only recently told family members of his childhood experiences. "No adult should have to carry the pain that I carried."

In a class-action lawsuit announced Thursday, Smith, of Millville, N.J., the Rev. Gary Hayes, of Henderson, Ky., and Steven M. Stolar, of Millville, say they were molested between 1965 and 1972 by the Rev. Joseph F. McGarvey, then assigned to St. Mary Magdalen parish in Millville.

The civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court, is the first in the country to allege fraud and conspiracy by church leaders under federal and state anti-racketeering statutes, normally used against organized-crime figures, said Edward J. Ross of Haddon Township, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The suit, claiming church officials have hidden evidence of wrongdoing by priests, requests an injunction "to prevent further destruction of incriminating documents by bishops."

It also seeks to establish a national registry of priests known to have molested children.

"I would like to see children come to church and be able to have their innocence protected, not violated," said Hayes, 40, a Millville native.

"The pattern was Father McGarvey provided money, gifts, alcohol, trips, vacations," he said. "He was our friend, our confidant. He listened to all of our problems. That was the hook that got us into the relationship."

McGarvey, who served most recently at St. Maria Goretti parish in Runnemede, N.J., could not be reached for comment Thursday. McGarvey, currently living in Audubon, N.J., is now on a leave of absence at his request, said a spokesman for the New Jersey Diocese of Camden, also a defendant in the suit.

The diocese spokesman, the Rev. Carl Marucci, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he was not familiar with it.

The suit seeks unspecified damages from 16 defendants, including Bishop James T. McHugh of Camden, and the National Catholic Conference of Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference, both of Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs include three parents of abuse victims, because they also were hurt by their children's ordeal, attorneys said.

"Without therapy, for more than 12 years we had a terrible relationship," said Steven Stolar of Millville, father of Steven M. Stolar. "It was all because of Joseph McGarvey driving a wedge between a father and his son."

Hayes said he reported his allegations last December to Bishop McHugh in Camden. "For reasons known only to God and themselves, they (church officials) chose not to act," he said.

The diocese disputed that view, however.

" Father Hayes did lodge charges," said Marucci in a prepared statement. "An investigation was initiated, but not completed, because Father Hayes contacted an attorney."

He noted the Camden diocese has offered counseling to Hayes "and anyone else who may be involved."

"Fears of reprisals, retribution and threats" were allegedly used to silence the youngsters, the lawsuit says.

Hayes said he kept quiet to avoid hurting his chances of becoming a priest.

"The only thing that I ever wanted was to be a priest, " said Hayes, who was ordained three years ago.

The press conference was organized by the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Also named as defendants in the suit are the Rev. William C. O'Connell of Providence, R.I., and the Diocese of Providence, as well as church officials there.

O'Connell, described as a friend of McGarvey's, participated in the abuse of the Millville teen-agers, the lawsuit says.

O'Connell has been suspended since 1985, when he was arrested on charges related to sexual abuse of a child, said William Halpin, a spokesman for the Providence diocese.

The Rhode Island priest was imprisoned for a year as a result of that case, Halpin said. O'Connell could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Halpin expressed sympathy for abuse victims, but said the Catholic Church is acting aggressively against offenders.

"I can't speak about 30 years ago, but today there are strong policies and procedures in effect (to deal with sex abuse) ," he said. "Every diocese is moving heaven and earth to put the right procedures in effect."

Hayes did not share that view.

"I am seeking justice in the courts because I could find no justice in the church," he said.


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