The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Sunday, December 12, 2010
Child sex victim settles case vs. big shot Jesuit now in Rome
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
Two years ago, US Catholic officials secretly paid a six-figure settlement to a man who he molested as a child years ago by a Catholic figure. Later, that employee became a priest. And today, that predator is a prominent Jesuit priest who continues to work for the church in Rome.
A reputable daily newspaper in the US disclosed the accusation and the settlement today. Here’s how it describes the predator: “Fr. Keith Pecklers. . .is now a prominent Jesuit scholar. A professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has written, contributed to or edited nine books, according to his Facebook page, and is a frequent commentator on Vatican affairs for American media outlets — including the sex abuse scandals.”
Fr. Pecklers essentially admits the abuse. Here’s how he tries to minimize and excuse his hurtful actions: “I was a student — I was a minor myself — so it would be impossible to be accused of that type of thing. I was 17 years old, so that’s the end of the story.”
Jesuit and New Jersey Catholic officials should be ashamed of themselves. This is the very same secrecy and recklessness that the Catholic hierarchy has engaged in for decades, in the US and across the globe. It is the very same callous and destructive pattern being repeated again and again with devastating results for kids, parents, families and ironically, for the church itself.
We call on the Jesuits to suspend Pecklers and explain their dangerous secrecy about both the accusation against him and the settlement. We hope others who saw, suspected or suffered Pecklers’ abuse will come forward, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, firstname.lastname@example.org), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)
In N.J. Senate testimony, Bayonne man says prominent Jesuit scholar abused him as a child
Sunday, December 12, 2010, 9:28 AM
TRENTON — It was another day of endless hearings in Trenton.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was taking testimony on a proposed bill that would do away with a two-year statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging child sex abuse. There were a few dozen spectators in the gallery — and one reporter.
Then a 48-year-old man leaned into a microphone.
And delivered a bombshell.
"My story began in 1976, St. Paul’s Church in the Greenville section of Jersey City," said Keith Brennan.
Speaking about his experiences publicly for the first time, Brennan, of Bayonne, recalled four years of sexual abuse by church staff, starting with Keith Pecklers, the church’s young music director. Brennan said he was 14 at the time and that Pecklers was about three-and-a-half years his senior.
After about a year of the abuse by Pecklers, Brennan said, he reported it to the church deacon, Thomas Stanford, who then took over abusing Brennan, plying him with drugs and alcohol before abusing him repeatedly over the course of three years.
"Thirty-four years have gone by but I have not forgotten a single day, a single detail of my abuse," said Brennan. "While my abusers were having careers and vacations and writing books and enjoying their lives, they killed me to a certain point. They destroyed a young boy’s hope, career, what could have been."
Pecklers, who became a priest, is now a prominent Jesuit scholar. A professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has written, contributed to or edited nine books, according to his Facebook page, and is a frequent commentator on Vatican affairs for American media outlets — including the sex abuse scandals.
In 2008 — after decades of suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-mutilation, an eating disorder and the fear that his abusers may have given him AIDS — Brennan said he contacted attorney Stephen Rubino, an expert on child sexual abuse cases. Rubino forwarded Brennan’s accusations to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, along with a DVD of Brennan and his family describing how the abuse had harmed him. Within weeks, the archdiocese entered into mediation with Brennan and eventually settled for an undisclosed six-figure sum, Brennan said. He provided a partially redacted letter from his attorney outlining the distribution of the settlement amounts, dated Sept. 24, 2008, as proof.
Though Brennan testified in an open hearing on Thursday, the Ledger deferred publication of his story until efforts could be made to contact people and institutions he accused in his session before the Senate committee.
Reached by phone in Italy, Pecklers would not say whether he ever had sexual contact with Brennan, but said actual abuse could not have taken place because he was not an adult at the time.
"In the 1970s, I was a student — I was a minor myself — so it would be impossible to be accused of that type of thing. I was 17 years old, so that’s the end of the story," said Pecklers.
Brennan said in a later interview with the Star-Ledger that Pecklers began molesting him against his will about a month before Pecklers turned 18, and continued well past his birthday.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, said he could not discuss anything related to litigation matters. However, he confirmed Pecklers had worked in the parish as a layman until he left to become a Jesuit priest.
Stanford, he said, had been a priest within the diocese until he left the priesthood on his own for unknown reasons in the mid-1980s.
"He asked for a leave from parish work some time around ’85 or ’86 and never came back," said Goodness.
Until 2008, according to the Paterson Diocese, Stanford worked as manager of the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa and as a part-time music manager for Holy Cross Parish in Wayne.
Richard Sokerka, spokesman for the Paterson Diocese, said officials there were told two years ago by the Archdiocese of Newark that Stanford had been named in a sex abuse case. "He was immediately terminated from both positions," said Sokerka. Attempts to get comment from Stanford were not successful.
The Star-Ledger located the address of a Thomas Stanford in northern New Jersey. Independently, Brennan supplied a description of Stanford’s car and its license plate, having written it down during an encounter two years earlier. When The Star-Ledger visited the apartment Friday and Saturday, the car was in the allotted parking spot. Occupants inside the apartment did not come to the door.
Brennan was one of several victims of childhood sexual abuse to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday in favor of a bill that would do away with the state’s two-year statute of limitations on lawsuits for such sex abuse.
Currently, victims have two years from the time they realize their abuse damaged them to file suit before the statute runs out. Brennan said he would not have had a case if he actually filed a lawsuit, but suspects the archdiocese settled the abuse through arbitration because of how well he recalled his abuse and the detailed account of it he gave them.
Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, testified against the bill, arguing that it would make institutions responsible for abuse that happened decades ago, long after critical evidence has disappeared. Proponents testified that the burden of proof remains the same no matter how old the case is, and that evidence that has disappeared only makes it harder to successfully sue.
Catholic bishops have opposed similar bills in other states, and earlier this year were instrumental in a successful effort to stop Connecticut from easing its 30-year statute of limitations.
Brennan, who left the church when he was 17, told the senators he considers himself an "estranged Catholic." He said he spoke publicly to encourage other victims to come out.
"When you are no longer victim to the secret, you can then take control of your life. If more men and women could be encouraged to come forward, healing would be contagious. This is my reason for coming forward after 34 years," he said.
By Matt Friedman and Ted Sherman/The Star-Ledger
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests