Abuse Case Against NJ Diocese Is to Proceed
By ROBERT HANLEY - The New York Times
November 4, 2004
MORRISTOWN, N.J., Nov. 3 - A sexual abuse lawsuit against the
Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, its former bishop and several
churches and schools cleared a legal hurdle Wednesday when a
New Jersey judge rejected a diocesan motion to dismiss the suit.
The judge, Deanne Wilson, of New Jersey Superior Court, rejected
arguments by a lawyer for the diocese that under the statutes
of limitation, the filing deadline for the suit lapsed years
ago. Judge Wilson's ruling allowed the lawsuit brought by
25 men and six of their wives to proceed. They are seeking
unspecified financial damages and nonmonetary relief from
The Paterson Diocese's decision to fight the lawsuit, which
charges negligence in the abuse of young boys, comes after
other Catholic dioceses in New Jersey and elsewhere have settled
sex abuse lawsuits brought by former altar boys and other
victims. In early October, the Archdiocese of Newark paid
$1.1 million to seven men and two woman who said they had
been sexually abused as children by nine priests.
In October 2003, the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., announced
an agreement to pay $21 million to 40 people who contended
they were abused by priests. Several months before that, the
Diocese of Camden in southern New Jersey paid $880,000 to
resolve 23 abuse claims.
Since 1950, the Paterson Diocese has paid about $2.8 million
in settlements, legal fees, therapy and counseling related
to sexual abuse by priests, the most recent last December,
said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese. Ms.
Thompson declined to give details on why the diocese is fighting
the latest suit in court.
"These cases were assessed, and it was decided to go
through the judicial process,'' Ms. Thompson said. "We
believe this is the best course we can follow.''
Supporters of those who brought the suit were critical Wednesday
of the new bishop of the Paterson diocese, Arthur J. Serratelli.
When he was installed last July, Bishop Sarratelli pledged
renewed efforts "to safeguard our young, to protect them
from insidious evil that would rob them of their innocence
and scar them for life."
Mark Serrano, a past victim of abuse in the Paterson Diocese,
expressed disappointment Wednesday that Bishop Serratelli
had ignored invitations to meet with members of the Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group.
"The victims are not receiving fair and just treatment
from the bishop,'' Mr. Serrano said.
Gregory Gianforcaro, the lawyer for the 25 men, said 20 of
them had been abused as children by a former priest in the
diocese, James T. Hanley. (Mr. Hanley is not related to the
reporter of this article.)
The suit does not name Mr. Hanley as a defendant, in part
because he has no assets and is helping those who filed the
suit, Mr. Gianforcaro said. He said Mr. Hanley had provided
a statement about his abusive behavior.
The lawsuit also accused five other priests and a deacon
of sexual abuse of children between 1956 and 1983.
During court arguments Wednesday, a diocesan lawyer, Kenneth
Mullaney, contended the lawsuit had been filed long after
the deadline on various charges had passed.
Most negligence lawsuits filed on behalf of juveniles must
be filed in New Jersey no later than two years after the juvenile
reaches age 18, Mr. Mullaney said.
Mr. Gianforcaro argued that the state's traditional statutes
of limitation did not pertain in this case because state law
dealing with sexual abuse of minors allows victims to argue
that the abuse led to repressed memories or psychological
scars that lasted for years.
In her ruling, Judge Wilson sided with Mr. Gianforcaro and
allowed him to present, in future hearings, psychological
reports supporting his claim that his clients suffered from
repressed memories and other emotional problems.