A new law that lifts the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child sex abuse in New Jersey went into effect Sunday — opening the floodgates for lawsuits against powerful institutions and predators.
Some of the first cases filed Monday include three suits against the Catholic Church that allege the religious institution knowingly hired perverted priests and allowed them “unfettered” access to vulnerable children, while keeping their proclivity for pedophilia a closely-held secret.
The three cases were filed by the Herman Law Firm under the new law that’s opened up a two-year window for civil claims brought by any survivor of child sex abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred — similar to the Child Victims Act in New York.
The suits name three priests, three New Jersey dioceses, two churches and the Archdiocese of Brooklyn as defendants, alleging they failed to protect children who interacted with priests who were known to the church to be pedophiles.
In the first case, a plaintiff identified only by the initials “B.D.S” alleges he was sexually abused by the notorious serial pedophile Father Romano Ferraro when he was working in the Diocese of Metuchen and assigned to Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Middlesex, NJ, the lawsuit states.
B.D.S, who is a resident of New Jersey, alleges his abuse began “in or about” 1984-85 when he was around 11 or 12 years old.
Father Ferraro took an interest in him, “gave him special treatment,” and groomed his family to gain their trust by visiting their home with snacks and staying to watch TV and socialize, the suit alleges.
B.D.S, who was an altar boy at Our Lady, alleges he was waiting in the sacristy for his mom to pick him up one day after mass when he was alone with Ferraro — and the priest asked the boy to pull down his pants then sexually assaulted him by fondling his genitals, among other things, the records show.
The abuse continued over a three-year period, mostly at the boy’s home when Ferraro visited, and included an overnight trip with Ferraro where B.D.S. was sodomized by the priest, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit alleges the Diocese of Brooklyn, along with the Diocese of Metuchen and Our Lady, is responsible for B.D.S’s abuse because they knew of Ferraro’s history.
“Prior to ordination [in 1960], Ferraro left the seminary because he was conflicted over his sexual proclivity for boys. Diocesean officials, advised by Ferraro of this issue, convinced Ferraro to return to the seminary and continue to pursue a career in the priesthood,” the lawsuit states.
Ferraro then went on to be a Military Chaplain for the US Navy in 1968 where he was dishonorably discharged based on an allegation of child sexual abuse, the suit states.
Instead of kicking Ferraro out of the church, the Diocese of Brooklyn assigned him to the St. Rose of Lima Burch in Brooklyn where, in May 1973, he was accused again of child sexual abuse, the records show.
Ferraro was eventually found guilty of abusing a 7-year-old in Massachusetts and was sentenced to life in prison, the papers show.
The second case brought by plaintiff “B.D.” against the Diocese of Paterson and Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, alleges another “prolific pedophile,” Father James Hanley, was allowed to work with children despite a history of abusing kids, the records show.
“Father Hanley groomed Plaintiff and other boys active in the Church, including altar boys, gaining their trust and testing boundaries. He gave massages to boys, including Plaintiff, that started at the boy’s shoulders and continued to their lower abdomen. He used the massage in this manner as a prelude to sexual assault,” the suit states.
B.D. alleges he was abused by Hanley when he was 13, in or about 1968-69, and endured abuse similar to acts Hanley admitted to during a 2003 deposition — such as “touching and rubbing of genitalia, oral sex, sexual use of a vibrator, open-mouth kissing and showing pornography,” the records state.
The third case, brought by plaintiff “T.C.” against the Archdiocese of Newark and Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Garfield, NJ, alleges Father Joseph Cevetello abused him when he was around 13 in 1976-77.
T.C. alleges he had three private meetings with Cevetello to prepare for his upcoming first communion where he was abused each time.
“These sexual assaults included, for example, Father Cevetello grabbing Plaintiff’s genitalia, pressing his body against Plaintiff from behind, and frottage,” the suit states.
In all three cases, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Jeff Herman, alleges the Catholic Church was complicit because it forced bishops to keep accusations of sexual abuse secret, therefore leaving kids who attend churches with priests with a history of pedophilia at risk.
Herman cites a confidential 1962 church document from the Vatican titled “Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation” that “contains specific instructions regarding the handling of child sex abuse by clergy” and states the accusations must be kept secret.
If anyone spoke out about the abuse, the document states they’d be excommunicated from the church and thus, sentenced to “eternal damnation,” the report states.
All three suits are seeking monetary damages to be determined by the courts.
Herman, whose firm has at least 250 other cases being prepared against the Catholic Church, said holding the institution accountable through lawsuits gives the survivors a chance to heal.
“One of the more difficult things that I see from my clients is, they always felt their connection to God was through their priest so when their priest molested them they felt cut off from God and they felt this spiritual void and that’s really been difficult to go through life with that,” Herman told The Post.
“All we can do is sue for money damages but by giving them a voice and getting a measure of justice, which is a settlement or verdict, that’s a symbolic gesture almost for these victims but it changes their lives.”
The Archdioceses of Metuchen, Newark, Paterson and Brooklyn did not immediately return a request for comment. Cevetello has passed away, while Ferraro and Hanley could not be immediately reached for comment.
Additional reporting by Susan Edelman
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