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New York pastor's accuser comes forward; 2nd victim awaits?

N.J. man says Msgr. Gaffney raped him over 3-year-span when he was an altar boy, student at St. Charles

RELATED SNAP STATEMENT

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
By LESLIE PALMA-SIMONCEK
STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

In the week since Dan O'Dougherty's allegations of sexual abuse 17 years ago at the hands of an Oakwood priest became public in the Advance, a second potential victim has surfaced with a disturbingly similar story, according to O'Dougherty's attorney.

Yesterday O'Dougherty, 29, his family, supporters and attorney called for the immediate removal of the priest, Monsignor Thomas Gaffney, pastor of St. Charles R.C. Church in Oakwood, while the Archdiocese of New York investigates the allegations.

Monsignor Gaffney has denied the accusations.

O'Dougherty, speaking in person for the first time during a press conference in the Livingston, N.J., office of attorney Bruce Nagel, said the monsignor raped him repeatedly over a three-year period when he was a student in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at St. Charles School and an altar boy in the church.

Nagel said that in the last week he has been contacted by a young man who was a student at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School when Monsignor Gaffney was principal there.

"We know there were other young boys who were sexually abused by this man," Nagel claimed. The man he spoke to, who both lives and works on the Island, "is as credible as the day is long," he said.

The attorney said he hopes that young man, and any others who might have been abused, will decide to come forward.

"We are calling today for the immediate removal of Father Gaffney," Nagel said. "This is a man who should not be wearing a collar."

SECRET SHAME?

O'Dougherty, who now lives in Morristown, N.J., said the assaults against him often took place in what he described as "the altar boy room," where altar servers would vest for mass.

"At the time I felt like it was my fault," O'Dougherty said, "like how could I let this happen?" He said the priest told him the sexual activity would prepare him for life and bring him closer to God.

O'Dougherty, a construction worker in his father's contracting business, said he kept the secret from his parents, three siblings and friends, out of embarrassment and shame. He turned to drugs and alcohol to "self-medicate," he said.

In October 2003, nearly two years after the U.S. sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church began making headlines across the country, he decided to break his silence. What finally convinced him was learning about the suicide of another New Jersey man who had said he was abused by a priest.

"I just looked at my life and my life wasn't going anywhere," O'Dougherty said. "I heard a lot of people were coming out." He said he feels "a weight has been lifted," since he first told his parents and a family friend, the Rev. William Scully, about the abuse.

"This is not about money, this is public disclosure," Nagel said, adding that the family has not decided whether or not to go forward with a civil lawsuit. "It's about the removal of a predator in a collar."

The archdiocese said it has not removed Monsignor Gaffney because its attorneys have been denied access to O'Dougherty. Nagel said he will not agree to such an interview unless Monsignor Gaffney is also present.

"We can't compel Monsignor Gaffney to speak," said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.

FIRST ACCUSATION

The charter on child protection adopted by the United States Conference of Bishops does not require someone making an allegation to have a face-to-face interview; a sworn statement is sufficient, Father Scully said.

According to Nagel, the archdiocese has been provided with the statement his client made to the Staten Island district attorney's office in October.

"It's not sufficient," Zwilling said. "In all of the other cases [involving other priests], we have had an opportunity to sit down to speak with the person making the allegation and decide what action, if any, needs to be taken."

The district attorney's office took no action in the case, presumably because the statute of limitations had expired. The office has declined comment on the issue.

Zwilling has said that Monsignor Gaffney was allowed to remain in his post because O'Dougherty's accusation is the first against the priest in the 54 years since he was ordained.

"There's no action to be taken, based on what we have been told so far," Zwilling said yesterday.

Monsignor Gaffney told the Advance in an interview published Sunday that he has no memory of his accuser. However, O'Dougherty's parents said that's not possible.

His father, also named Dan, a retired New York City Police Department sergeant, ran the Cardinal's Appeal for the parish and taught religious education there for eight years, he said. His mother, Cathy, a nurse, ran a parish health program.

"He definitely knows who we are," said the elder O'Dougherty.

NO RECOLLECTION

But Matthew Santamauro, one of two attorneys the priest hired to defend him, yesterday reiterated what his client told the Advance.

"He has no recollection of this man," said the New Dorp-based lawyer. "I really don't know if there's anything else to say at this point."

The O'Doughertys said they knew something was wrong with their son starting from the age of 11. He became withdrawn, didn't want to go to church, and began having fainting spells whenever he was on the altar. His most recent spell was at his sister's wedding last year.

When he told his parents about the abuse, his father said he didn't believe him at first, and then all the pieces started to fit together -- the depression, the substance abuse, the fainting.

"Then I started to think, could this be possible?" said the elder O'Dougherty, who is serving his second term as a councilman in Kinnelon, N.J.

Mrs. O'Dougherty also said she would like to see the monsignor removed.

"This man has robbed my son's soul." she said, "and robbed his youth."

Leslie Palma-Simoncek is the religion editor for the Advance. She may be reached at palma@siadvance.com.

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