A time of reckoning for NJ’s predator priests

Survivors demand reparations for decades of abuse

The list of priests accused of abusing children is "expanding," said Cardinal Joseph Tobin.
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The list of priests accused of abusing children is "expanding," said Cardinal Joseph Tobin.

Editor’s note: Due to the statute-of-limitations and the failure of many Church leaders to report wrongdoing to police, most of the priests listed have not been tried and therefore are only alleged to have committed the crimes of which they are accused.

This month, Roman Catholic Church leaders in New Jersey shed new light on allegations of sexual abuse by priests that have been kept hidden for nearly a century, naming men in their clergy accused of preying on children, in some cases for decades.

Beginning on Feb. 13, the five New Jersey archdioceses, which oversee Catholic parishes in the state, publicized previously buried records of 188 clergy members who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. The records ended the official silence and secrecy that cloaked the systemic atrocities within the established church.

 

“The disclosure of this list of names is not an endpoint in our process.” – Cardinal Joseph Tobin

 

Many of the priests “credibly accused” of sexual assault will escape prosecution because New Jersey’s statute of limitations for charging them with sexual abuse will have expired. And to pursue a civil case, victims must report the abuse within two years of their 18th birthday, according to current law.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who heads the Newark Archdiocese, said the investigation is not completed. “The disclosure of this list of names is not an endpoint in our process,” he said.

The revelations were preceded by a number of events. Last year a statewide New Jersey task force was created by the attorney general. In Pennsylvania, the Catholic Church was subject to a grand jury hearing in which more than 1,000 childhood victims of sexual assault connected to over 300 Catholic priests were uncovered. On Feb. 16, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former Archbishop of Newark was stripped of his priesthood by Pope Francis.

The Newark Archdiocese, which oversees churches in Hudson, Bergen, Essex, and Passaic counties, released 63 records out of the 188 cases in the state. Some of the allegations date back to 1940.

One of many in Hudson County

One priest who will go untried and unpunished for his alleged crimes because the statute of limitations has expired is Kenneth Martin, who once held a position in St. Andrew’s Church in Bayonne among several other parishes in the state.

Mark Crawford, an advocate for fellow abuse survivors and executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), publicly accused Martin in 2003 following years of alleged abuse he and his brother experienced in the 1970s and ’80s.

Crawford spent his childhood in a Catholic youth group where he said he and his brother were sexually abused by Fr. Kenneth Martin. In an online account  he published in 2018, he said he was first sexually assaulted in a sleeper car on a train to Colorado during a church trip in 1978.

“Overnight he climbed into my bed and I awoke as he was fondling me,” Crawford said. “That’s when the sexual abuse began.” Crawford said he spent years of his childhood being molested by Martin several times a week. On one occasion, he said he and his brother were stripped naked and beaten with a belt buckle. “On several occasions, I absolutely feared for my life,” Crawford said.

Crawford accused Martin of briefly kidnapping him when he was 16 years old.

Crawford first reported his abuse in 1983 to several Archdiocese officials, but nothing happened. In 1996, Crawford met with now-disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in hopes of preventing Martin from working anywhere near children again.

“He promised this man would not have access to children,” Crawford said. “It wasn’t long at all before I realized none of this was true, not a single promise kept. A week after our meeting, I was again asked for confidentiality. Not long after I saw the archbishop, along with Fr. Martin, surrounded by children at a local hospital pictured in the diocesan paper. The archbishop and the archdiocese never reported him to police until after McCarrick left for Washington, D.C. a few years later, the criminal statute of limitations having since expired.”

Crawford’s story finally reached the press in 2003, more than 20 years after the abuse first began. Martin was permanently removed from the priesthood, but will not face legal punishment for the years of suffering he allegedly caused multiple children.

Abusers still in vestments

In 2018, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal established a statewide task force to investigate sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy in New Jersey.

“Despite the recent actions by the dioceses, our investigation remains ongoing because no institution or individual is immune from accountability,” Grewal said in a statement. “We know from the hundreds of calls that we have received over our tip line that there are many others who were abused as children and as adults, both by diocesan clergy and clergy members in various religious orders.”

According to the Newark Archdiocese, the list fails to include cases involving members of religious orders outside the Archdioceses’s jurisdiction. Those in religious orders can include bishops and monks, among others. They’re not required to report sex abuse accusations by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ (USCCB) 2002 “Policy to Protect Children,” commonly referred to as the Dallas Charter.

Weeks prior to the release of the New Jersey records, Pope Francis acknowledged publicly for the first time what many believed to be an open secret–priests were also sexually assaulting Catholic nuns. The New Jersey Archdiocese list did not include these allegations.

No nuns accused of sexual abuse were included on the list either, despite public testimony alleging such abuse. As a religious order, they weren’t required to adhere to the 2002 Dallas Charter, either.

McCarrick defrocked

Just three days after the Newark Archdiocese released its list of names, on Feb. 16, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former Archbishop of Newark,was stripped of his priesthood due to allegations that surfaced last year that he sexually abused seminarians between 1994 and 2008, as well as a teenager in the 1970s. He is the highest-ranking priest within the Catholic hierarchy on the list.

He was tried and defrocked by the Vatican, but will not be tried or serve time in in the United States.

“It is profoundly disheartening and disturbing to know that a church leader, who led our Archdiocese of Newark for 14 years, acted in a way that is contrary to the Christian way of life,” said Cardinal Tobin. Survivors might call that an understatement.

Compensation program

An independent victims compensation program has been established, with the aim of providing financial compensation and counseling to those with credible allegations of abuse by priests. The compensation will come entirely from church funds and no public money will be used. Applicants will be required to sign a letter which “frees the diocese from any further litigation in the matter,” i.e. a non-disclosure contract. The Archdiocese recommends reporting any incident to the Office of Youth and Child Protection at 973-497-4254, or to the victim assistance coordinator at  201-407-3256.

The fund is being managed by advocates Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros, independently of the Church. Feinberg and Biros established similar compensation funds for the victims of the Pennsylvania abusers, victims of the 9/11 attacks, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Reparations? Some restrictions apply

Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP, said that while the Church’s compensation funding may seem like a benefit at face value, programs like these can derail policy reform that serves the greater interest of sexual abuse survivors as a whole.

The Archdiocese of Newark states that a nondisclosure agreement, and an agreement not to pursue further civil action in court are required to receive compensation from the Church. Hiner said that requiring nondisclosure agreements clouds public transparency, and is a roadblock to preventing future clergy abuse.

“Churches can require that victims sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to receive compensation which prevents information about abusers from getting out,” Hiner said.

“Similarly, the opening of compensation funds gives lawmakers an excuse to avoid helping survivors seek true justice by reforming the statutes of limitations,” he said. “It’s the statute of limitations that often keeps survivors from coming forward in the first place. In short, these funds allow church officials to control and process the information. This will not prevent future abuse nor help most survivors find the justice they deserve.”

“This will not prevent future abuse nor help most survivors find the justice they deserve,” – Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director

Abuse unearthed in Hudson County

Among the 63 credibly accused priests who held positions in the Newark Archdiocese, 33 are dead, and the rest have been permanently and confidentially removed from the ministry over several decades. Some on the list were laicized, which means they are still considered priests according to Catholicism, but are not allowed to present themselves as priests, or conduct masses or religious ceremonies.

The list connects clergy members to either “one” or “multiple” accusers. The Catholic Church hasn’t made its recorded number of alleged child sexual abuse victims public knowledge.

Some Hudson County parishes were havens for a handful of child predators. St. Mary’s Church in Jersey City had four clergymen on the list of abusers.

Other churches with abusive clergy on the list were St. Joseph of the Palisades Church (West New York); Church of the Immaculate Conception (Secaucus); St. Michael’s Church (Jersey City); St. Henry’s Church (Bayonne); Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church (Jersey City); Holy Family Church (Union City); and Our Lady of the Assumption Church (Bayonne).

Predator priests in your town

Here is a list of the Hudson County priests named by the Archdiocese, along with their local work histories, current status, number of victims who accused priests, and other relevant information, pulled from the full list posted by the Archdiocese of Newark. 

Jorge Batista (d.) ; ordained 1983; Jersey City: St. Paul of the Cross, St. Nicholas. Union City: St. Augustine, St. Anthony of Padua. West New York: St. Joseph of the Palisades; One victim.

John C. Bouton (d.); ordained 1949; Secaucus: Immaculate Conception; One victim.

James A. Carey (d.); ordained 1936; Jersey City: Christ the King, St. Michael; One victim; deceased.

Michael Campanlonga (removed from ministry); ordained 1967; Hoboken: Stevens Institute of Technology. Union City: Holy Rosary Academy; Multiple victims.

John Capparelli (removed from ministry); ordained 1980; North Bergen: Our Lady of Fatima Church; Multiple victims.

  • It was reported that Capparelli had left the ministry amid allegations, and became a public school teacher in Newark. Eventually, allegations that he abused multiple teenage boys in the 1970s and ‘80s led the state to remove his teaching certification.

Robert Chabak (removed from ministry); ordained 1972; Hoboken: Ss. Peter and Paul; Multiple victims.

  • It was reported in 2004 that Chabak was allowed to live at Saint Joseph’s Church in Oradell after Hurricane Sandy, despite having been removed from a different ministry due to allegations that he molested a teenage boy in the 1970s.

Peter Cheplic (removed from ministry); ordained 1972; Bayonne: St. Henry’s. Weehawken: St. Lawrence Church; Multiple victims

  • It was reported that Cheplic voluntarily stepped down from St. Henry’s Parish in 2005 amid several charges of sexual abuse from the 1970s and ‘80s. After the first complaint emerged in 2002, Cheplic was barred from unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 21, and transferred to St. Lawrence Church in Weehawken, where he stayed for three more years as a clergyman.

Dennis Cocozza (d.); ordained 1975; Bayonne: St. Henry’s; One victim.

Absalom Coutinho (removed from ministry); ordained 1972; Jersey City: St. Nicholas; multiple victims.

  • It was reported in 2002 that allegations against Coutinho emerged while he was working in a ministry in Palmetto, Fla., “on loan” to that church from the Newark Archdiocese. Accusers connected him to multiple incidents of child molestation while he was still in New Jersey.

Arturo Crespo (removed from ministry); ordained 1994; Jersey City: St. Bridget’s; One victim.

Joseph DiPeri (d.); ordained 1956; Jersey City: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel; One victim.

David Ernst (d.); ordained 1954; Union City: Ss. Joseph and Michael; Multiple victims.

  • The Roman Catholic Church was sued in 2014 by one of his victims, along with SNAP. This case was a touchstone for proponents of a bill that year which aimed to eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.

Edward Eilert (removed from ministry); ordained 1964; Bayonne: St. Vincent de Paul; Multiple victims.

  • Eilert’s case was reported over the years since the Union County Prosecutor revealed that he was one of three priests to rape a teenage girl in the 1980s. He stepped down amid the rape allegations in 2002, but the case was too old to prosecute at that time due to the statute of limitations.

Joseph P. Fagan (d.); ordained in 1937; Jersey City: Christ the King; One victim.

John Flanagan (d.); ordained 1941; Jersey City: chaplain at St. Francis Hospital; One victim.

Lawrence Gadek (d.); ordained 1955; Jersey City: Church of the Assumption; Multiple victims.

Augustine Giella (d.); ordained 1950; Jersey City: Our Lady of Sorrows; Multiple victims.

Alan Guglielmo (removed from ministry); ordained 1968; Secaucus: Immaculate Conception. Jersey City: Hudson Catholic Regional High School, St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s University, CYO Hudson. Hoboken: St. Mary Hospital; One victim.

Carmine Sita/ Gerald Howard (removed from ministry); ordained 1976; Jersey City: St. Aloysius; Multiple victims

  • It was reported that, in 1983, Sita pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in 1982. He was sentenced a year later to five years of probation, and was removed from the ministry. He reportedly joined a Missouri church after changing his name from Carmine Sita to Gerald Howard. He was convicted of raping three more minors over three years, from 1984 to 1987. He wasn’t convicted until 2010, when he admitted his history of abuse.

John Komar (d.); ordained 1964; Bayonne: St. Joseph’s. North Bergen: Our Lady of Fatima; Multiple victims (child pornography)

Francis T. Maione (removed from ministry); ordained 1965; Union City: Holy Family; One victim.

Robert Marotta (d.); ordained 1963; Jersey City: St. John the Baptist, Our Lady of Victories. Secaucus: Immaculate Conception. West New York: Our Lady of Libera; One victim.

Kenneth Martin (removed from ministry); ordained 1977; Bayonne: St. Andrew’s Church; Multiple victims.

  • Mark Crawford, director of SNAP’s New Jersey headquarters, publicized his account of suffering years of abuse at Martin’s hands.

William McCann (d.); ordained 1925; Jersey City: St. Michael’s. Union City: Holy Family. Bayonne: Our Lady of the Assumption; Multiple victims.

Daniel (Horacio D.) Medina (removed from ministry); ordained 1998; Jersey City: St. Aloysius; Multiple victims.

  • In 2004, it was reported that the Union County Prosecutor’s Office charged him with fourth degree child endangerment, after an investigation revealed that he forced an 8-year-old boy into oral sex in 1999. For that, he was sentenced to probation.

John Morel (d.); ordained 1955; Jersey City: St. Michael’s. Union City: Holy Family. Bayonne: Our Lady of the Assumption; Multiple victims.

Robert Morel (d.); ordained 1969; Jersey City: St. Joseph’s; Multiple victims.

Michael OBrien (d.); incarnated 1977; Jersey City: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Union City: St. Anthony of Padua; One victim.

Jesus Orlando Rengifo (removed from ministry); ordained 1984; West New York: St. Joseph of the Palisades. Jersey City: St. Paul of the Cross; One victim.

  • In 2016, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) reported in its bulletin that Rengifo went back into the offices of the Archdiocese of Newark in an attempt to negotiate a return to the ministry. He was wearing priest’s garb, despite the fact that his suspension prohibited him from doing so. He has not returned to the ministry.

Joseph Rice (d.); ordained 1977; Jersey City: St. Mary’s; Multiple victims.

Mario Salazar (d.); ordained 1979; West New York: St. Joseph of the Palisades. Jersey City: St. Mary’s; One victim.

Edward Stanley (d.); ordained 1931; Jersey City: St. Mary’s; One victim.

Robert Stauffer (removed from ministry); ordained 1964; Bayonne: Our Lady of the Assumption; One victim.

Gerald Sudol (removed from ministry); ordained 1980; Jersey City: St. Ann, St. Francis Community Center, Holy Rosary. Hoboken: Padre Pio Friary; Multiple victims.

  • Sudol’s case made headlines in 2018, when accusations of his sexual assault incident resurfaced a few years after being dismissed. In the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury on clergy sex abuse, Ridgefield Park native Ed Hanratty, a freelance journalist, spoke out in 2018 about the abuse that he and his friends suffered at the hands of Sudol as Catholic School students and altar boys. Allegations made against Sudol in 2015 were reviewed, but were ultimately thrown out until Hanratty went public with his allegations three years later.

Robert Svec (d.); ordained 1954; Bayonne: St. Henry’s, St. Mary, Star of the Sea, St. Vincent de Paul. Jersey City: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. John the Baptist; Multiple victims.

Robert Zasacki (d.); ordained 1967; North Bergen: St. Brigid; One victim.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.