A former Newark resident went to the Archdiocese of Newark last year with an explosive claim.
In 1976, Newark Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety befriended her family and sexually abused them several times in his bedroom in the church parsonage when she was 5 years old, she said.
“Don’t say anything about it because it will hurt your mother,” she recalled Gerety, then the senior church official in New Jersey. “That is our secret.”
The New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program, an out-of-court body established by the Catholic Church to resolve abuse claims, reviewed the woman’s allegations last year, her attorney said. The panel said the woman could not find any evidence to independently verify her allegations of abuse by the well-known archbishop who died five years ago.
But the Compensation Board offered her a deal – $ 5,000.
The woman turned down the Church’s offer and filed a $ 50 million lawsuit in March alleging Gerety’s sexual abuse caused lifelong mental health problems. Her lawsuit, filed in Essex County’s Supreme Court, is believed to be the first to claim that one of New Jersey’s best-known and longest-serving Catholics targeted a child for abuse.
The lawsuit was first reported by NorthJersey.com.
Gerety, who died in 2016 at the age of 104 as the world’s oldest Catholic bishop, has already been named in numerous court cases for allegedly covering up or not removing priests in the Archdiocese of Newark who had sexually abused children during his tenure.
Gerety is not on any of the lists published by Catholic dioceses listing priests who have previously been “credibly” accused of child sexual abuse.
Newark Archdiocese officials declined to comment on the woman’s complaint, which identified the archdiocese, Gerety’s estate, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, her school, and other ecclesiastical institutions.
“It would be inappropriate to discuss or comment on litigation, but it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark continues to be fully committed to transparency and our long-standing programs to protect the faithful, and continues to work with victims, their rights, agents and law enforcement agencies are constantly trying to clear up the allegations and shut down the victims, ”said Sean Quinn, an archdiocese spokesman.
The case is being brought to trial in part because the Catholic Church’s independent compensation agency’s $ 5,000 settlement offer was “grotesquely low,” said John Baldante, the woman’s attorney.
“They hid under the guise of not being able to definitively confirm Bishop Gerety’s guilt,” said Baldante, who has represented about 350 alleged sexual abuse victims in New Jersey. “Your default is just denial, denial, denial.”
The 49-year-old woman who lives in Pennsylvania is not named in the lawsuit. She is identified by the pseudonym “Clara Doe”.
She first met Gerety, then a newly appointed archbishop, when he befriended her, her mother, and her older sister while they were parishioners at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. This resulted in an affidavit from her attorney that she signed last month.
The Archbishop often brought food to the warring family at their home on Broadway Avenue. He volunteered to look after the 5-year-old when her mother, a seamstress, was at work, she said.
He eventually took the girl back to his rectory bedroom, where he sexually touched her and masturbated three or four times in front of her, she said.
“As a child, I mistakenly thought that God specifically sent Archbishop Gerety to my mother and family to save us and help us get food. I felt I had no choice but to follow Archbishop Gerety’s instructions, ”said the woman in her affidavit.
Eventually, she began to struggle to be alone with the priest, and her mother sent the 5-year-old to her aunt’s house instead. The woman said she didn’t tell anyone about the alleged abuse until she was 13 and confided in her sister, who is still alive and remembers the conversation, Baldante said.
Neither girl told her mother about the alleged abuse.
When she was over 20 years old, the alleged victim was suicidal and in therapy, she said. She is still on depression medication and has had lifelong problems with personal relationships.
Gerety was born in Connecticut in 1912. He was the eldest of nine sons, two of whom became Catholic priests.
He served as a pastor for nearly three decades, mostly in Connecticut, where he worked extensively with immigrants and was known for his work for social justice and civil rights.
He was named Archbishop of Newark in 1974 and oversaw over one million Catholics in Essex, Union, Hudson and Bergen counties. He became known as one of the most progressive bishops in the country, encouraged women to take on greater roles in the Church, marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, and protested the Vietnam War.
He retired in 1986 and was replaced as Archbishop of Newark by the future Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who eventually became the first Catholic cardinal to resign on multiple charges of sexual misconduct against young men and fellow priests.
Under a new law, New Jersey opened a two-year window in 2019 for nearly all sexual abuse victims to file civil suits against institutions, including the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, and other organizations that allegedly abuse them. The deadline for filing civil claims is November 30th.
The Archdiocese of Newark and the four other New Jersey dioceses funded the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program to deny some of the lawsuits. The now-completed multi-million dollar program allowed alleged victims to file a lawsuit detailing their allegations without going to court or revealing their names.
The program offered victims voluntary settlements in return for agreeing not to take their cases to court. It is unclear how large the New Jersey settlements were, but a similar program in New York offered up to $ 500,000 for some victims.
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Kelly Heyboer can be reached at [email protected]