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More than 230 NJ Sex Abuse Suits filed against Catholic Church

More than 230 sex abuse lawsuits against Catholic priests in New Jersey have been filed over the past 12 months. The Record and NorthJersey.com reported on some of the varied and more egregious cases last week.

  • One man, while a young student at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, said a vice principal struck him with a 500-page book and threatened to suspend him after he reported being sexually abused by a religious brother. After “booking” him, the administrator told the student never to speak of his abuse again and then suspended him for five days.
  • A Pennsylvania woman said she and other members of her Girl Scout troop were repeatedly abused in the basement of a Hackensack church by a priest later moved from parish to parish. The man was eventually arrested and charged with sexually abusing a girl in the Harrisburg area. Four of the Pennsylvania girl’s sisters later said they also were abused.
  • A southern New Jersey girl told her brother years ago that she had been raped by a priest who had told her that God directed him to do it. The brother told his sister that the same priest had also sexually abused him.
  • In Nov. 2020, a Montclair woman filed a lawsuit that alleged she was raped by William Dowd (a NY Giants chaplain also accused of other sex crimes*) at Immaculate Conception in 1971 while two nuns held her down. She further alleges abuse by one of the nuns starting in 1969 when she was 8 years old. That nun and another sister escorted her to see Dowd in 1971 when the priest allegedly abused her. She alleges the abuse continued until she left the parish school in 1975.

The Record and NorthJersey.com has examined more than 230 sex abuse lawsuits filed in NJ against the state’s five Roman Catholic dioceses since Dec. 1, 2019. That’s when NJ suspended the civil statute of limitations for such cases. The filings name more than 150 clerics, including dozens not on the church’s own list of 188 credibly accused priests released last year. The filings trace allegations from the 1940s through 2020.

More than 240 people who allege they were abused have filed lawsuits. Most of the allegations are from the 1970s and 1980s. Some two dozen involve kids who were 5 or 6 years old. Most of the accusers are men, but at least 20 women are included as plaintiffs. Nearly half of the priests named in the suits have died.

Hundreds of Victim Compensation Program Filings

Hundreds of additional allegations have been filed with the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program established by the state’s five Catholic dioceses in 2020 to compensate victims who agree not to pursue lawsuits.

As lawsuit complaints continued to increase in October 2020, the Diocese of Camden filed for bankruptcy. That filing put more than 50 lawsuits and 70 claims on hold with the compensation program that have been moved to federal Bankruptcy Court. Several lawyers have said they believe other dioceses will follow Camden’s lead.

The Newark Archdiocese is named in 94 of the lawsuits, the Camden Diocese in 54, Trenton in 52, Metuchen in 25, Paterson in 19. Many clergy abuse victims were barred from filing such lawsuits until recently. New Jersey loosened the restrictions on civil complaints involving sex abuse in 2019, expanding the statute of limitations and suspending it completely during a two-year window.

Church officials said last year that they would add names to their lists of credibly accused priests, but that has not occurred. The Record and NorthJersey.com report that at least six cases have been settled by the victim compensation program involving North Jersey clerics not yet on the list.

*Former NY Giants Chaplain Accused

One of those priests is William Dowd, a former NY Giants chaplain who is listed as retired by the Newark Archdiocese. He had been removed from ministry years ago while he was working at a Ho-Ho-Kus parish when two men from Immaculate Conception parish in Montclair alleged that he abused them years earlier. A member of the church response team who heard the case told The Record and NorthJersey.com she anticipated Dowd would be laicized because the allegations appeared credible. His accusers independently  described similar details about the priest’s quarter’s in the church rectory.

A lawyer who filed a lawsuit naming Dowd as an abuser confirmed that his client – one of the two men from Montclair – received a settlement from the victim compensation program in October 2020; so the suit will be withdrawn.

The two nuns in the case described above have since died, while Dowd’s lawyer, Joseph Hayden, said that his client denies the allegations made in the woman’s lawsuit. The lawyer declined to comment on the settlement in the other case or to say whether Dowd, who lives in Brick, NJ, is allowed to work as a priest.

Maria Margiotta, the Newark Archdiocese spokeswoman, has declined to say whether Dowd is allowed to wear the clerical collar and perform as a priest. Ms. Margiotta did not respond to The Record and NorthJersey.com requests for information about Dowd in late November, including the latest accusations against him and the two nuns.

Hiding from the Public?

“I think what you’re seeing is this repeated pattern by the church of avoidance and hiding the truth,” said the lawyer who filed last week’s lawsuit. “They conceal information, and retreat to their corners and hide the truth from the public.”

The victim compensation program says it has received 692 claims, including 70 from Camden on hold. The program has sent out 566 determinations, denying one out of five claims. Of the offers sent to claimants, a little less than 20% were rejected, and a similar number are waiting for a response.

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