Catholic Diocese of Metuchen defending multiple sex abuse lawsuits

A new lawsuit against disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick filed under the landmark New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill that allows those assaulted as adults to use the civil courts for justice is one of three filed against the Diocese of Metuchen.

One lawsuit accuses McCarrick of sexual battery against the man, who was in his late teens and early 20s when McCarrick was Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, in central New Jersey.

Another lawsuit names Brother Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart for the sexual abuse of a 13- to 14-year-old from approximately 1994 to 1995 while the plaintiff was a student at St. Joseph High School (Metuchen), a school within the Diocese and staffed by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.

The third lawsuit names Father John Butler who was the choirmaster at St. Joseph’s in Kings Park, New York. Butler went on to work in multiple parishes in West Virginia and the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, Trenton, and Metuchen.

On April 11, 2002, the Diocese of Metuchen removed Butler from ministry in the wake of news that he sexually abused a young boy when he worked for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. In 2003, the Diocese of Metuchen settled with a survivor of Butler.

Lawyers representing the victims are demanding that Bishop James F. Checchio disclose the number and names of Metuchen priests who were accused in more than 500 secret claims made in a state-wide survivor compensation program.

Attorneys and advocates for survivors of adult sexual assault and child sexual abuse urge adult survivors to come forward and expose abuse under New Jersey’s Victim’s Rights Act—the only one in the nation—before it expires November 30, 2021

A previously announced complain accused Father Patrick H. Barrett of sexually abusing a minor parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua in Port Reading, from approximately 1983 to 1984 when the plaintiff was 9 to 10 years old.

“These survivors are standing up, speaking out and seizing the opportunity afforded by New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act which has opened the courthouse doors for survivors of any age to take action for a limited time,” said attorney Jeff Anderson. “It’s time for a reckoning in the Diocese of Metuchen.”

McCarrick went on to become archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark in the mid-1980s and then Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2001. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

McCarrick was defrocked in 2019 after a Vatican investigation determined he sexually abused minors, as well as adults. He faces other lawsuits in New Jersey, including one that alleged he sexually abused a teenage boy at a beach house in the 1980s.

In a separate case in Massachusetts, the now-91-year-old McCarrick recently became the only U.S. Catholic cardinal ever to be charged with child sex crimes, and he pleaded not guilty in a court appearance in early September.

The claims announced Thursday were filed as the clock winds down on a two-year window for people to file sex abuse lawsuits regardless of how far back the alleged abuse occurred. New Jersey opened the window in December 2019, in the wake of a landmark grand jury report in neighboring Pennsylvania that detailed abuse by hundreds of clerics against more than a thousand child victims.

Pope Francis ordered Theodore McCarrick to resign from the College of Cardinals over sexual abuse allegations. The former Archbishop, who once ruled Catholics in Washington, DC; Newark, NJ; and Metuchen, NJ; is now on trial in Massachusetts for sexually assaulting a teenager decades ago.

An attorney representing McCarrick, who now lives in Missouri, declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Through a spokesperson, the Metuchen diocese said in an email Thursday that it has taken aggressive steps to protect children, including requiring background checks for all clergy, employees and volunteers; training for all who work or volunteer with children; enforcing a zero-tolerance policy, and relying on a review board to determine the credibility of every allegation against clergy.

“We will continue to take steps forward to ensure the shameful actions of the past cannot be repeated in the future,” the diocese said.

Both Butler and Moccia worked at high schools the lawsuits say were under the direct control of the diocese and are now deceased, according to Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Neither man’s name appears on a list of credibly accused clerics released in 2019 by the diocese. The Metuchen diocese’s spokesperson said Thursday that Butler’s name appears on a list released by the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, where he was ordained a priest.

Moccia was not a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen, the spokesperson said, and the diocese would not have access to personnel records or outcomes of investigations that would have resulted from allegations against him.

The lawsuit against Butler alleges he abused a boy in the late 1990s while Butler was working at St. John Vianney School in Colonia, beginning when the boy was 9. The suit against Moccia, who worked at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, claims he abused the boy starting when he was 14, in the early 1980s.

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