Prosecutors Probe a Third Charge of Priest Molesting a Young Man

By Joyce A. Venezia
January 26, 1994

Msgr. Robert Morel of River Edge, who faces criminal charges of fondling a young parishioner and an unrelated civil complaint brought by a man who says Morel abused him as a youth, is the focus of another investigation related to a third alleged victim, officials said yesterday. At a pre-trial conference in Hackensack yesterday, Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Ike Gavzy notified Superior Court Judge Sybil Moses about possible additional charges from a third alleged victim. Defense attorney Richard Potter said he was surprised by Gavzy's statement. Morel did not attend the conference, which related to the criminal charges against him.

Prosecutor John Fahy said investigators are hoping to interview a young male from Bergen County who works as a waiter in a restaurant. The young man is not a parishioner in Morel's church, he said. "We haven't yet spoken to the person," Fahy said. "We got the information from an adult who witnessed Father Morel doing something." Although Fahy would not provide details, he said it was "one incident in a public place" that occurred within the statute of limitations. If the prosecutor's office collects enough information, the case on the third alleged victim may be presented to a grand jury, Fahy said. "We are in the process of contacting the alleged victim," he said. "It may not be that serious, and/or the person may not want to come forward. We try to comply with the victim's wishes." Morel, 50, remains on administrative leave from his duties as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church in River Edge, where parishioners still provide "a tremendous amount of support," Potter said. The Archdiocese of Newark is not paying for Morel's legal defense, but Potter refused to say who was subsidizing Morel's legal expenses. Potter also refused to say whether the monsignor was receiving any type of counseling. Emotionally, Morel "is like a tiger now," Potter said after yesterday's court hearing. "He's angry and upset. He wants to get on with his life and his priestly duties." Morel was recently denied admission into Bergen County's pre-trial intervention program (PTI), which would have allowed him to avoid trial in exchange for a period of probation and counseling. "There is no admission of guilt in PTI, so it looked like an option worth exploring," Potter said. The prosecutor's office extended a possible plea agreement in September, but Potter said there is no chance that his client will plead guilty. "He wants to be vindicated," the attorney said. Morel pleaded innocent in August to one count of criminal sexual contact for allegedly fondling the genitals of an 18-year-old male parishioner. The incident allegedly took place after a party at St. Peter's rectory in July celebrating the announcement of Morel's elevation to the rank of monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church. At yesterday's pre-trial hearing, Moses set a status conference for March 22, the last day that Morel could accept the state's plea agreement. Earlier this month, Joseph T. McColgan of Lincoln, Mass., filed a civil suit in federal district court in Newark charging Morel with sexually abusing him as a youth. McColgan, who is represented by Ventnor attorney Stephen Rubino, alleged that the abuse started when he was 9 years old and occurred when Morel was an assistant priest at Blessed Sacrament Church in Roseland. From 1973 to 1981, Morel allegedly "continually and repeatedly sexually molested, battered, fondled and masturbated" McColgan using "subterfuge, duress and force," McColgan charged. Morel "says that is nonsense," Potter said yesterday. Although McColgan's complaint alleges that the abuse began in 1973, the archdiocese said the priest was not assigned to Blessed Sacrament until 1975. The state statute of limitations has prevented a criminal investigation into McColgan's charges, but Gavzy indicated yesterday that McColgan might be a witness at Morel's trial, as well as the alleged third victim. When asked about the possibility of McColgan's appearing as a witness, Potter later said, "Obviously, we would like to preclude him because it has nothing to do with this case at all." Morel, who was born in Hoboken and attended Seton Hall University and Immaculate Conception Seminary, was ordained in 1969. His first assignment was at Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus.


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