More than 850 sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed as deadline approaches for past claims
More than 40 years after a 15-year-old boy was reportedly sexually abused by the Rev. John Capparelli, the alleged victim filed a lawsuit in Essex County Superior Court against the Archdiocese of Newark and the church where the disgraced, defrocked priest — who was murdered in 2019 — once served.
The plaintiff in the case, not identified by name, spoke of being raised in a devout Catholic family and participating in youth and church activities at Holy Trinity Church in Westfield, before ultimately becoming a victim to what was described only as “unpermitted sexual contact.”
It is just one of hundreds of civil lawsuits that have been filed in New Jersey since the state opened a two-year window that greatly extended the amount of time victims of sexual abuse had to sue.
And now, that window is closing. At the end of the month, a two-year extension allowing such lawsuits on decades-old allegations comes to an end.
Advocates, however, say the COVID pandemic has made it difficult for victims to meet with attorneys and build their cases and have called for more time to allow others to seek justice.
“The pandemic closed our courts for some time and it delayed in many ways the statewide investigation of the five Catholic Dioceses in New Jersey,” said Mark Crawford, a clergy abuse survivor and state leader of SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The New Jersey law, passed in 2019 and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, waived the statute of limitations to sue under a 24-month time period ending on Nov. 30, 2021. The law also allowed adults who were assaulted as children to file civil suits until they turn 55, or seven years after they discover that they were abused. It targeted not only individuals who allegedly committed sexual assault, but the churches, athletic organizations, schools and community organizations for whom they had worked.
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