Church sex abuse victim files lawsuit against N.J. bishops, N.J. Catholic Conference West Milford. A local survivor of alleged sexual abuse from a Catholic priest is suing all the bishops in New Jersey for not identifying those in the church accused of sexual misconduct over many years.
West Milford resident Edward Hanratty addresses reporters during a press conference in Newark May 6 announcing his lawsuit against all the Catholic bishops in New Jersey to make the names of accused sex abusers public.
By Nicole M. Wells
Several years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a parish priest and a perceived lack of transparency have led a West Milford man to file a lawsuit against all five New Jersey Catholic Church bishops and the New Jersey Catholic Conference (NJCC). Resident Edward Hanratty, 42, argues in the suit that in failing to fully disclose the names of clergy accused of sexual misconduct with minors, the bishops and the Catholic conference are maintaining a public hazard. Hanratty joined his attorneys at a press conference at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel in Elizabeth May 6 to discuss the legal action and to release a report containing the names and assignment histories of more than 300 alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct with minors in New Jersey, including 13 who served periods of time locally. Known as the Anderson Report, it was compiled by law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates PA, which is representing Hanratty. “We can’t move on until we know why,” he said. “I hope that today is the first day of the final chapter in getting to the bottom of this tragedy.” According to information contained in the suit, Hanratty was allegedly abused by Fr. Gerald Sudol from 1987-1991, when he was approximately 10 to 14 years old. Hanratty’s allegations of sexual abuse by Sudol have never been addressed in either a civil or a criminal lawsuit and a settlement with the diocese was never reached, he said. According to the report, Sudol’s whereabouts are currently unknown and he could therefore not be reached for comment regarding Hanratty’s allegations. In addition to the Diocese of Paterson, the Archdiocese of Newark, the Diocese of Trenton, the Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Metuchen and the New Jersey Catholic Conference were named as defendants in the complaint. Two of the local priests accused of sexual misconduct in the report served at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta during the 1970s. According to the report, Fr. John F. Wall did a two-year stint at Pope John XXIII from 1970-1972 and Fr. James Scott was assigned there from 1979-1980. Also stationed in Sparta and accused in the report were Fr. William N. (F.) Cramer at Our Lady of the Lake parish from 1979-86 and Fr. Gregory White at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish from 1997-1998. In nearby Ringwood, Fr. John Francis Dority, O.F.M., who worked at St. Catherine of Bologna in 1976, and Fr. Thomas G. Rainforth, who was assigned to St. Catherine’s from 1991-1996, are accused in the report. Fr. Sean Leo Rooney, S.D.B. was listed as being stationed at Salesian Junior Seminary in Goshen, New York, from 1979-1981, along with Fr. August J. Kita, S.D.B. from 1967-1972. Kita also served at Don Bosco College in Newton from 1982-1985, according to the report. In other parts of the diocese, Fr. Absalom Coutinho served at St. Jude parish in Budd Lake from 1980-1988 and Fr. Patrick O. Erwin served at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Highland Lakes in 1989. Both were listed in the Anderson Report. Fr. James A.D. Smith is listed as having worked at St. Monica parish in Sussex in the report, however, the time frame he was there is unknown. Two of those accused in the report served recent assignments in the diocese. Fr. Kevin A. Gugliotta served at Ramapo College from 2016-2017 and Fr. Andrew T. Perretta served at Chilton Hospital from 2013-2017. Perretta also served at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton from 1992-2017. Of the 13, seven of the local priests named in the report were listed on the Diocese of Paterson’s website as having been “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct with minors. According to the website, several of the individual priests listed were convicted of a criminal offense, however, the diocese did not indicate which. Hanratty said he was inspired to come forward in August 2018 following the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which investigated alleged sexual misconduct by clergy in that state. “I published my story, and instantly my inbox was flooded with names I hadn’t heard of in 30 years, haven’t thought about in decades,” he said. “They said everything from, ‘I had my suspicions, I support you,’ to ‘It happened to me. The way you described it is exactly what I lived with, I still have those nightmares.’” What Hanratty wants is for the bishops to release the identities, background information and histories of all clergy in the state accused of sexual misconduct with minors, including information relating to their assignments. “Open it all up, full story, full accounting, what did you know, when did you know it,” he said. “Why, why were they placed certain places?” According to former Catholic priest and ex Benedictine monk Patrick Wall, the report allows the reader to piece a narrative together, in the absence of information provided by the church. “To be able to put this together, to have one source so that you can see what they knew, you can see what they knew at what particular years, and you can see the density of the number of publicly accused perpetrators in different places,” he said. “If you look at that assignment history, you can make your own assessment of what the dioceses knew and what was happening.” According to the suit, the information that the defendant individual dioceses have released in recent years does not provide a complete picture of the number of alleged perpetrators. The Anderson report “contains the names of diocesan priests, religious order priests, deacons, nuns, and religious brothers and sisters associated with Catholic Dioceses in the State of New Jersey, including those of whom were assigned within, working in, or living within the Archdiocese and Dioceses in New Jersey who have been accused of sexual misconduct,” according to the document. According to Anderson & Associates, the information contained in the report was aggragated from various sources, including publicly available information, survivors’ claims and legal settlements made as a result of sexual abuse claims. Hanratty said that his life has been deeply impacted by the abuse he suffered and he wonders how it could have gone in another direction. “I think how different my life would be,” he said. “I think about the life of my beautiful wife who grew up in this parish, and all the other girls who had to live with the ramification of a generation of boys exposed to this.” Wall said that the decisions to place alleged abusers in particular places are ones that diocesan leadership would have certainly been aware of. “These are conscious actions that the bishops have taken over time,” he said. Growing up in a devout Roman Catholic home, Hanratty said he was taught to “trust, revere and respect the Roman Catholic Church,” according to information contained in the suit. The community is owed an explanation as to why it was kept in the dark, he said. “These are the things that we deserve to know,” Hanratty said. The Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Paterson, the Diocese of Metuchen and the NJCC did not return phone calls. The Diocese of Trenton declined to comment, citing pending litigation, in an emailed communication. In an emailed statement, the Archdiocese of Newark said, “We continue to focus on transparency and accountability and to reinforcing established reporting and prevention policies and programs to protect minors and support victims in our parishes, schools and ministries. Our full and proactive collaboration with state and local law enforcement officials and with the Attorney General’s office continues and remains a priority. Any allegations of abuse involving minors whether by a member of the clergy or a lay employee or volunteer are immediately reported to law enforcement, and if found credible, the individual is permanently removed from any capacity as per our Archdiocese’s zero tolerance policy.” Legal representation for the Archdiocese of Newark, the Diocese of Trenton, the Diocese of Camden, the Diocese of Paterson, the Diocese of Metuchen and the NJCC was unclear as of press time.