Washington D.C., May 19, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).
A new lawsuit alleges that the late archbishop of Newark groomed and molested a five-year-old girl during his tenure as archbishop.
The lawsuit, which was first reported on May 10 by NorthJersey.com, was filed by a woman identified as “Clara Doe.” Doe claimed that in 1976, she was molested numerous times in the bedroom of Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety in the church rectory.
Doe said that Gerety befriended her family shortly after he was appointed as archbishop of Newark in 1974. She said that Gerety would bring food to her family, and would babysit her while her mother was at work.
It was during several of those babysitting sessions, she said, that Gerety exposed himself to her, masturbated, and sexually molested her.
The lawsuit, which was filed in March in the Essex County Superior Court, seeks $50 million in damages.
“As a child, I misguidedly thought that God had specifically sent Archbishop Gerety to my Mom and family to rescue us and help us get food to eat. I felt I had no option other than to do as Archbishop Gerety instructed,” Doe said in a signed affidavit.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA on Wednesday, “It would be inappropriate to discuss or comment on matters in litigation, but it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark remains fully committed to transparency and to our long-standing programs to protect the faithful and will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and bring closure to victims.”
Doe said that she told her sister about the alleged abuse eight years later, when she was 13 years old.
Last year, Doe said she brought her accusation to the New Jersey Independent Victims Compensation Program, which she claimed did not find any evidence to corroborate or verify her claims. She claimed that the program offered her a $5,000 settlement, which she rejected.
The states’ Catholic dioceses created the program in 2019 for survivors who suffered sex abuse by clerics when they were minors. The program, advertised as an alternative to litigation, evaluates survivors’ claims and offers them a settlement.
Doe said that as a result of the alleged abuse, she has suffered from depression and has difficulty with relationships.
Gerety died in 2016 at the age of 104; at the time of his death, he was the oldest Catholic bishop in the world.
Prior to the current lawsuit, he had not been named by dioceses as a priest “credibly accused” of abuse, although he was named in lawsuits alleging that he covered up clerical sex abuse or did not properly handle abuse accusations against priests in his diocese, according to NJ.com.
The Diocese of Portland in Maine, where Gerety served as bishop for five years prior to his installation in Newark, told CNA that “there have been no complaints or allegations involving Bishop Gerety ever received in the diocese.”
“As always, Bishop [Robert] Deeley encourages anyone who may have information about any case of sexual abuse of a minor by a Church representative to contact civil authorities” as well as the diocese, said a spokesperson for the Portland diocese.
In 2019, New Jersey created a temporary two-year window for new lawsuits against individual perpetrators of child sex abuse, or against organizations that facilitated or covered up sex abuse, regardless of any statute of limitations. The deadline for these claims to be filed is Nov. 30, 2021.
Gerety, born in 1912, worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Transportation Department before entering St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut. He was ordained a priest in 1939 for the Archdiocese of Hartford, and served there for 27 years.
Gerety was actively involved in the civil rights movement, taking part in the 1963 March on Washington led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., founding the New Haven chapter of the Urban League. He was named a Monsignor by Pope St. Paul VI in 1963, before being appointed the coadjutor bishop of Portland, Maine, in 1966, and the bishop of Portland in 1969.
In 1974, he was installed as archbishop of Newark.
Gerety’s successor in Newark was Theodore McCarrick, who was eventually laicized in 2019 after a Vatican administrative penal process found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
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