The Newark Archdiocese has made a settlement payment to five men for $650,000 who claimed they were sexually abused by a former New Jersey priest. The attorney for the five men, Greg Gianforcaro, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the Newark Archdiocese hasn’t been open and transparent when it comes to sex abuse claims, both with the public and other archdiocese.
Gianforcaro said the issue of sex abuse wasn’t new to him. He grew up in Mendham and was an alter boy for the Paterson Diocese at St. Joseph’s. Of 25 boys who he said were at alter boy practices with Father Jim Hanley, 16 or 17 were abused. He said he believes he wasn’t victimized because he went to public school instead of the elementary school at St. Joseph’s.
He explained that that scandal broke in January 2002 and the bishops got together and came up with the Dallas Charter, which is for the protection of children and young people. “They promised to be transparent and open with regard to this whole scandal. And the problem, especially lately that I’ve seen with the archbishop, is that they have not been transparent and open,” Gianforcaro said. “If you’re going to be transparent and open or at least claim to be, then be transparent and open.”
A lack of transparency also came into play with the five alleged victims Gianforcaro represents. He said they were sexually abused by a priest in the Newark Archdiocese named Carmen Sita. In 1982, Sita was arrested and pleaded guilty for abusing one boy.
“He actually continued to be a priest in the Newark Archdiocese and then within one year of his being charged was actually removed to the Missouri Diocese, but not under the name of Carmen Sita, but rather under the name of Father Gerald Howard,” Gianforcaro said.
According to Gianforcaro, Sita went to New Mexico and legally changed his name. He said he believes the Missouri Archdiocese didn’t know anything about his background when he began working there as a priest. He said they became aware of a problem “when he started abusing children in Missouri.” The abuse didn’t take long to begin, according to Gianforcaro.
“I don’t think he was a priest in Missouri very long and I think he was actually released by the Missouri Diocese because he started abusing children and I think it all happened within the first year,” Gianforcaro said. He added that the Newark Archdiocese knew Sita and Howard were the same person and sent him to Missouri anyway.
Gianforcaro said the men he represents feel guilty for not speaking out about their abuse previously. But he said most victims don’t come forward right away. “It really takes decades to really come to terms with the fact that they’ve been abused. And really muster up the courage to come out,” he explained.
The men see the settlement as a symbol and acknowledgement of their abuse, according to Gianforcaro. He said they will likely use the $650,000 settlement money to pay for ongoing counseling.
“When anyone is abused as a child, they receive a life sentence of sleepless nights, problems with marriages and relationships, a lot of psychological issues. It’s a life sentence. And they probably will have to use that money for counseling for the rest of their lives,” Gianforcaro said.
Some have questioned the timing of the settlement in light of the ongoing scandal regarding Father Mike Fugee and the Newark Archdiocese allowing him to continue working with children even after his admission in a molestation case. But Gianforcaro said the case was settled before the Fugee news broke. He said, though that he is alarmed by the story.
“Like I said earlier, if they’re gonna claim to be open and transparent, then they have to be open and transparent. They’ve got to name names,” Gianforcaro said. “And I will tell you that these five men came out with regard to Carmen Sita not because they were advised by the Newark Archdiocese of the fact that they had had a predator in their past, but because a victim’s organization called SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — came out and had a press conference in New Jersey because of a settlement in Missouri from a man who had been abused in Missouri after Carmen Sita had been transferred there.”