Suit Names Clerics, Trenton Diocese in Alleged Sex Abuse by Ex-Priest

By Jim O'Neill
January 14, 1994

A 26-year-old man has sued a former Roman Catholic priest, 11 other clerics and their parishes, a retreat house and the Trenton Diocese, charging he was sexually assaulted when he served as an altar boy between 1978 and 1981. The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court, New Brunswick on behalf of John Crowe by Fred Ira Eckhaus, an attorney with the firm of Cohan & Eckhaus in Parlin. It named Francis D. Bruno of Hamilton Square in Mercer County as a defendant, charging he assaulted Crowe when the plaintiff was between the ages of 12 and 14. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, claims the assaults caused lasting emotional and physical damage, pain and humiliation to Crowe.

Other defendants named in the lawsuit include Trenton Bishop John Reiss, Msgr. Joseph LaForge, the Rev. Harry Flynn, the Rev. Thomas Rittenhouse, the Rev. John J. Scully, the Rev. Vincent Treglio and the Rev. William McKeon. Also named are Bishop Edward Kmiec, Msgr. Francis Krine, the Rev. Richard Lyons and Bruno's seminary schools, churches he was affiliated with and the Trenton Diocese. Since the alleged assaults, the churches cited in the civil complaint realigned with the Diocese of Metuchen, formed in the mid-1980s. The Metuchen Diocese was not named in the suit. The suit charges the other defendants with covering up the assaults by failing to report or stop them. Bruno, who left the priesthood several years ago and currently works for the state Department of Corrections, could not be reached for comment, but an attorney representing the diocese denied the allegations. "We obviously, from the standpoint of the defense, believe that no representative, priest or any of the supervising priests were in any way liable for any of the problems this young man might have encountered," the attorney, Michael Herbert, said. "It's just sad that the Catholic Church is now a target for lawsuits," he said, asserting the civil complaint is "similar to an epidemic of complaints being filed seeking untold millions of dollars ... The favorite target is the Roman Catholic Church." Crowe said he had suppressed his memory of the assaults and was having nightmares and started suffering from epileptic-like seizures that became daily, horrific events. The man said his problems persisted until he began seeking counseling after he recalled the repeated sexual assaults. Crowe claimed the former priest had routinely invited him and other boys to play poker and offered them beer and cigarettes. Crowe said he was lured into Bruno's bedroom and sitting room at the rectory at St. James R.C. Church in Woodbridge, where he was assaulted. Crowe said he served at the church as an altar boy. He also claims he was assaulted while on visits with the priest to Sacred Heart R.C. Church in South Amboy and at the Stella Maris Retreat in Long Beach Island. He further claims other priests were aware of the assaults and joked about them, referring to Bruno as a "chicken hawk," who kept young boys for sexual purposes. As an adult, he began suffering from nightmares and "non-epileptic seizures" and is undergoing counseling. Church officials said they offered counseling, but Crowe rejected them. Crowe said he never told anyone, including his parents, about the alleged episodes, asserting he was ashamed and was persuaded by Bruno to keep silent. Crowe said in college, he developed a friendship with Bruno as an adult after the priest contacted him. The friendship ended when Crowe's recollections of the alleged incidents returned, he said. In August or September 1992, three or four months after the nightmares began, "I called Frank to confront him on whether or not it all happened, and he verified it for me," Crowe said. By that time, Bruno had left the priesthood, Crowe said.


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