Paterson Diocese to Pay $5M to Settle Sex Abuse Lawsuit

By Jeff Diamant
February 10, 2005

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson has quietly settled a clergy sex abuse lawsuit involving allegations from 27 victims - most of them against one priest over a 14-year period.

One plaintiff who asked not to be named said the main lawyer for the victims told him the diocese agreed to pay about $5 million to be divided in different amounts among the litigants.

The church also agreed to provide up to four years of counseling for each plaintiff.

Lawyers in the case and Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli declined to comment on the exact settlement amount.

Serratelli said only that "my understanding is that we're moving toward a settlement, and that if there's any announcement it'll be made by the plaintiffs."

The case was settled more than a week ago, according to a court document signed Feb. 1 by Judge Deanne Wilson and filed in Superior Court in Morristown.

Greg Gianforcaro, attorney for 26 of the 27 plaintiffs, declined to comment on the specifics of the case or to confirm the settlement. He also declined to comment on the amount, saying some plaintiffs did not want it public. He said he felt bound by their wishes.

A $5 million settlement would be the highest a New Jersey diocese has paid in a clergy sex abuse claim since the scandal began receiving heightened national attention three years ago.

Last year, the Newark Archdiocese settled for $1 million with 10 accusers. In 2003, the Metuchen Diocese settled for $800,000 with 10 accusers. Since 2002, the Camden Diocese has settled for $955,000 with more than 20 accusers.

The largest settlements nationally include an $85 million payout from the Boston Archdiocese to 552 people and a $25.7 million settlement from the Louisville (Ky.) Diocese to 243 accusers. Of the 27 plaintiffs in the Paterson case, 21 lodged allegations against James Hanley, who was accused of sexually abusing boys between 1968 and 1982. The plaintiffs contended that negligence by the diocese and inaction by church officials, including former Bishop Frank Rodimer, facilitated the abuse.

Most of the plaintiffs in the Paterson case who were contacted yesterday declined to comment, referring questions to Gianforcaro.

One, however, who lives in Sussex County and said Hanley abused him at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Pompton Plains in 1969, when he was 13, said he has been told he will receive about $100,000.

Another, Kevin Kingree, said the payouts were necessary so the diocese would improve its policies on sex abuse.

"It would be nearly impossible for me to say I was satisfied with how things turned out," said Kingree, who said Hanley abused him when he was in the seventh grade at St. Joseph's Church in Mendham. "At the end of the day, still it's a bit unsettling.

Kingree, a leader of the New Jersey chapter of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a victims group, said: "I know there's a lot of people out there, parishioners and otherwise, who frankly still see groups like ours - victims' groups seeking compensation - as out for the money.

"For me, that's another part of the victimization, another part of the crime. If we could have put a Hanley in prison instead of (receiving) the money, that's what we would have done," said Kingree, who said he did not know the total settlement amount.

Hanley was laicized - formally removed from the priesthood - in 2003. Prosecutors have not brought charges against him because the statute of limitation had expired.

The case is unusual because Hanley has admitted guilt and cooperated with the plaintiffs. He said in a sworn statement 16 months ago that he had engaged in oral sex, sexual touching, open-mouth kissing and masturbation with boys, and that he showered with them.

He also said in the statement that while meeting with Rodimer in 1984 about a single accusation, he admitted that he had molested about a dozen boys, but that Rodimer did not ask him their names. Hanley said Rodimer did not get him counseling until a year later, and then only after having falsely told the parents of one victim that Hanley was in counseling.

Hanley said Rodimer did not remove him from the ministry until more than a year after his admission.

Rodimer, who retired last spring after serving as bishop since 1978, has said he underestimated the seriousness of the allegations until it was too late to prosecute.

The case took a pivotal turn Nov. 3 when Judge Wilson declined a request from diocese lawyers to dismiss the case on the grounds that statutes of limitations had expired. The ruling meant the plaintiffs would be able to argue, one by one, at pretrial hearings that their decades-old claims merited a trial and that their repressed memories about the abuse had prevented them from coming forward earlier.

Settlement talks began heating up in December when a diocese attorney called Gianforcaro, said Mark Serrano, another Hanley victim who was not part of the lawsuit but who has spoken to Gianforcaro about the settlement. Mediation sessions began Jan. 20 and ended a few days later, Serrano said.

Gianforcaro would not confirm that account, but said: "I believe that Bishop Serratelli is committed to victims and their healing. . . . I don't believe at this time it is proper to comment on the status of any settlement. There will be a time, but that time has not yet come."

Other clergy named in the lawsuit included the Rev. Thomas Rainforth, formerly at St. Joseph's, and Carlos Guzmon, a former deacon in Dover.

The lawsuit said Rainforth had sexual contact with one plaintiff at St. Joseph's in Mendham between 1973 and 1976, and that Guzmon had sexual contact with a plaintiff at a church event in Paterson in the late 1970s.

In 2003, the Paterson Diocese review board cleared Rainforth of a charge that he sexually abused a minor, diocese officials have said. He now serves at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Clifton.


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