NEWARK, NJ – An Archbishop of Newark cared for a 5-year-old girl by delivering food to her struggling family, babysitting her regularly and sexually abusing her on multiple occasions in the 1970s.

The late Bishop Peter Leo Gerety, who headed the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland from 1969 to 1974. Picasa / Press Herald Photo

The lawsuit filed in March is believed to be the first to bring sexual abuse charges against the late Peter Gerety, who died in 2016 at the age of 104 as the world’s oldest Catholic bishop. According to the archdiocese’s website, Gerety was Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark from 1974 until he retired in 1986.

Prior to Newark, Gerety served in New Haven, Connecticut, and from 1969 to 1974 in Portland, Maine.

In an affidavit accompanying the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that a woman in her late forties had won her trust by helping her family and praising her as “such a smart and beautiful young girl.” Eventually, according to the lawsuit, Gerety took her to a bedroom in the church parsonage and masturbated while abusing her. The abuse occurred at least three or four times, according to the lawsuit pertaining to the woman who goes under the pseudonym Clara Doe.

She didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until she was 13 years old and confided in her sister. She became suicidal at the age of 20 and, according to affidavit, still suffers from anxiety and depression that require medication.

“I have suffered extreme difficulty navigating intimate relationships, and I continue to experience tantrums and difficulties when involved in relationships and trying to be intimate in the context of those relationships,” she wrote.

The Archdiocese of Newark declined to comment on the lawsuit on Tuesday, but a spokesman said via email that it is committed to transparency and “our long-standing programs to protect believers and will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement agencies work together an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and shut down victims. “

The lawsuit alleges negligence, emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty and provides for $ 50 million in damages and additional, unspecified punitive damages to Gerety’s estate, the Archdiocese of Newark, and other undisclosed individuals and persons.

“This case shows how systematic and ubiquitous child sexual abuse was and is in the Catholic Church,” said John Baldante, an attorney who represents the woman.

Gerety was replaced as Archbishop of Newark by Theodore McCarrick, who later became Archbishop of Washington, DC, and later Cardinal. McCarrick was dismissed by Pope Francis in 2019 after a church investigation backed up allegations that he sexually abused minors as well as adult seminarians.

Gerety’s name did not appear on a list published two years ago by the five Roman Catholic dioceses in New Jersey, which named more than 180 priests who were credibly accused of molesting minors for decades.

The lawsuit was first reported by The Record last week.

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