Man's Lawsuit Is Second Accusation of Sexual Abuse Filed against Priest

By Monica Maske
January 14, 1994

A Massachusetts man has filed suit in federal district court in Newark charging that Msgr. Robert Morel of River Edge sexually abused him as a youth at Blessed Sacrament Church in Roseland in the late 1970s and that Newark Archbishops Peter Gerety and Theodore McCarrick took part in a cover-up of the abuse. The charge by Joseph T. McColgan of Lincoln, Mass., is the second accusation of sexual abuse filed against Morel, who has been placed on leave from his duties as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church in River Edge by the Archdiocese of Newark. Morel, 50, pleaded innocent in August to charges filed in superior court in Hackensack that he sexually fondled the genitals of an 18-year-old male parishioner. The incident allegedly occurred after a party at the River Edge parish rectory in July celebrating the announcement of Morel's elevation to monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church.

Walter Lesnevich of Tenafly, Morel's attorney, said yesterday he had not been served with the federal complaint but that the new charges are "absolutely false" and "totally irrelevant" to the earlier allegation. He said his client has been staying with friends since leaving the parish. Lesnevich said he is waiting for a trial date to be set in the River Edge case. Mike Hurley, spokesman for McCarrick, called McColgan's charges "a vicious attack on the present leadership of the church for no reason." Hurley said it was incomprehensible why McCarrick was named in the complaint, when he was not installed as archbishop of Newark until 1986, more than five years after McColgan alleges he was sexually molested. "And as far as Archbishop Gerety is concerned," Hurley said, "there is absolutely nothing (in archdiocesan records) to indicate there were any allegations made against Msgr. Morel during Gerety's tenure as archbishop." In the federal complaint filed by Ventnor attorney Stephen C. Rubino, who specializes in clergy abuse cases, McColgan charges that Morel "continually and repeatedly sexually molested, battered, fondled and masturbated" him using "subterfuge, duress and force." McColgan charged that the abuse started when he was 9 years old and lasted from 1973 to 1981, when Morel was an assistant priest at Blessed Sacrament Church in Roseland. The complaint also charges Morel with "misrepresenting" to McColgan's parents the "real purpose" of the priest's "frequent visits" to their New Jersey homes in Essex Fells and Montclair, another home in Massachusetts where they subsequently relocated, and vacation houses in Vermont and Maine. The "real purpose was to sexually abuse" McColgan, the complaint charges. The complaint alleges that the archbishops and Morel "sought to cover-up incidents of sexual misconduct to protect the reputation of the church, the defendants, including the Archdiocese of Newark." Because of this "conscious decision" to protect the church, the defendants "began a pattern of transferring offending priests, ignoring warning signs and complaints of sexual misconduct, and creating an atmosphere of tolerance and non-reporting of those who sexually molest children so as to cover up the misconduct," the complaint stated. The complaint also charges the archdiocese failed to "investigate" Morel's character, his relationships with other priests and seminary students or monitor his conduct before ordination. If they had, the complaint contends, they would have known of Morel's "propensity" for sexually abusing youth. The complaint alleges that there were other accusations of sexual molestation of minors against Morel before he was transferred to Blessed Sacrament. Morel, who was born in Hoboken and attended Seton Hall University and Immaculate Conception Seminary, was ordained in 1969. His first assignment was to Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus. Although the complaint alleges the abuse began in 1973, the archdiocese said Morel was not assigned to Blessed Sacrament Church in Roseland until March 1975. He served there until March 1982, when he was appointed director of the ministry to retired priests at the St. John Vianney Residence in Rutherford. In November 1988, Morel was named pastor of St. Peter's in River Edge.


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