Church sex abuse victim files lawsuit against NJ bishops, NJ Catholic Conference

| 16 May 2019 | 11:15

By Nicole M. Wells
A survivor of childhood sexual abuse filed a lawsuit in Newark Monday against all of the New Jersey Catholic Church bishops and the New Jersey Catholic Conference for maintaining a public hazard by keeping secret the names of all clergy accused of sexual misconduct.
Additionally, plaintiff attorney Jeff Anderson & Associates PA released a report containing the names and assignment histories of more than 300 alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct in New Jersey, at a press conference Monday at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel.
According to the report, Fr. Absalom Coutinho (Paterson), Fr. William N. (F.) Cramer (Paterson), Fr. John Francis Dority (Paterson), Fr. Patrick O. Erwin (Paterson), Fr. Kevin A. Gugliotta (Paterson), Fr. August J. Kita (Paterson), Fr. Marcin Nurek (Paterson), Fr. Andrew T. Perretta (Paterson), Fr. Thomas G. Rainforth (Paterson), Fr. Sean Leo Rooney (Paterson, Newark), Fr. James Scott (Paterson), Fr. James A.D. Smith (Paterson), Fr. John F. Wall (Paterson) and Fr. Gregory White (Paterson) were among those listed in the report as accused of sexual misconduct with minors.
The Archdiocese of Newark, the Diocese of Trenton, the Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Paterson, the Diocese of Metuchen and the New Jersey Catholic Conference were named as defendants in the complaint.
Plaintiff Edward Hanratty said that his lawsuit is essentially about seeking transparency from the Catholic Church.
“We can’t move on until we know why,” he said. “I hope that today is the first day of the final chapter in getting to the bottom of this tragedy.”
Following the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which investigated alleged sexual misconduct by clergy in that state, Hanratty said he was inspired to come forward in August 2018.
“I published my story, and instantly my inbox was flooded with names I hadn’t heard of in 30 years, haven’t thought about in decades,” he said. “They said everything from, ‘I had my suspicions, I support you,’ to ‘It happened to me. The way you described it is exactly what I lived with, I still have those nightmares.’”
What Hanratty wants is for the five New Jersey bishops to release the identities, background information and histories of all clergy in the state accused of sexual misconduct with minors, including information relating to their assignments.
“Open it all up, full story, full accounting, what did you know, when did you know it,” he said. “Why, why were they placed certain places?”
According to former Catholic priest and ex Benedictine monk Patrick Wall, the report – known as the Anderson Report – allows the reader to piece a narrative together, in the absence of information provided by the church.
“To be able to put this together, to have one source so that you can see what they knew, you can see what they knew at what particular years, and you can see the density of the number of publicly accused perpetrators in different places,” he said. “If you look at that assignment history, you can make your own assessment of what the dioceses knew and what was happening.”
Questions about the assignment histories of alleged offenders trouble Hanratty, when he looks at the data surrounding his own community.
“If you read, you see four offenders from Ridgefield Park, my community,” he said. “Were we just very unlucky to have four credible accusers or did we have a reputation for being willing and subservient?”
Hanratty said that his life has been deeply impacted by the abuse he suffered and he wonders how it could have gone in another direction.
“I think how different my life would be,” he said. “I think about the life of my beautiful wife who grew up in this parish, and all the other girls who had to live with the ramification of a generation of boys exposed to this.”
Wall said that the decisions to place alleged abusers in particular places are ones that diocesan leadership would have certainly been aware of.
“These are conscious actions that the bishops have taken over time,” he said.
For former nationally ranked speed skater and sexual abuse survivors’ advocate Bridie Farrell, institutional inaction is all too familiar.
According to her website, Farrell was sexually abused by a speed skating teammate, beginning in the late 1990s, when she was 15 years old.
“We’re seeing time and time again throughout institutions, where the institution knew about abusers and did nothing,” she said. “Here we are with the Catholic Church, who has had the data to supply to parishioners and community members, and the church has failed to do that.”
Understanding firsthand the difficulties sexual abuse victims face in coming forward with their stories, Farrell recognized Hanratty for having the courage to speak out.
“What it takes is a brave, brave person to come forward, to stand up here and tell their worst nightmare so that other kids can be safe,” she said. “When I came forward in speed skating, I knew I had no legal recourse. I came forward for one purpose, and that was to make my little community of speed skating safer. And that’s what each and every individual survivor is doing.”
Growing up in a devout Roman Catholic home, Hanratty said they were taught to trust the parish priests because they were people deserving of trust. The community is owed an explanation as to why it wasn’t told of the alleged abusers in its midst, he said.
“These are the things that we deserve to know,” Hanratty said. “It’s that simple. We deserve to know.”
The Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Paterson, the Diocese of Metuchen and the New Jersey Catholic Conference were unavailable for comment as of press time.
The Diocese of Trenton declined to comment, citing pending litigation, in an emailed communication.
In an emailed statement, the Archdiocese of Newark said, “We continue to focus on transparency and accountability and to reinforcing established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victims in our parishes, schools and ministries. Our full and proactive collaboration with state and local law enforcement officials and with the Attorney General’s office continues and remains a priority. Any allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a lay employee or volunteer are immediately reported to law enforcement, and if found credible, the individual is permanently removed from any capacity as per our Archdiocese’s zero tolerance policy.”
According to the complaint, Jeff Anderson & Associates PA, Gianforcaro Law and Robins Kaplan LLP are acting as attorneys for the plaintiff.
Legal representation for the Archdiocese of Newark, the Diocese of Trenton, the Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Paterson, the Diocese of Metuchen and the New Jersey Catholic Conference was unclear as of press time.
The Anderson Report, containing the names and histories of more than 300 alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse of minors in New Jersey can be found at