Law Firm Adds 9 NJ Priests to List of Charged Attackers, Near Deadline in Diocese Bankruptcy Case

Anyone who has been sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest has less than two weeks to file a complaint before a deadline set in the Diocese of Camden bankruptcy case, lawyers said as they added nine new names to the list priests accused.

The diocese – which includes parishes in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties – filed for bankruptcy last fall after church officials said its finances were overwhelmed by regulations clergy sexual abuse and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bankruptcy judge has set June 30 as the deadline for people owed the money to file claims against the diocese. This prompted lawyers to call on anyone sexually assaulted by a member of the clergy linked to the Diocese of Camden to take legal action quickly or miss a settlement through bankruptcy court.

“We need to sound the alarm bells about the countdown and the lack of time for a survivor to come forward and file a complaint of harm and sexual abuse by anyone in the Diocese of Camden,” Jeff Anderson, a lawyer whose firm represents 49 alleged victims in the diocese, said Thursday at a press conference.

Anderson has highlighted 10 priests linked to the Diocese of Camden who were recently named in court documents filed by alleged victims who claim they are owed money in connection with the bankruptcy case.

The accused priests are: the Reverend Jérôme Prisco; the Reverend Joseph O’Connell; the Reverend John O’Brien; the Reverend Kenneth Johnston; the Reverend Robert Smaldore; the Reverend Léon Winowicz; the Reverend Rocco Continillo; Reverend David Budney; the Reverend Jesus Danilo Giraldo; and Reverend Roger A. Sullivan.

Johnston had previously been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit in 2020, but the other nine priests are newly released names who may not be known publicly as alleged abusers, the lawyer said.

Most of the priests are dead, Anderson said. Only Giraldo and Sullivan are believed to be alive, although the law firm does not know where they live or work. (An attempt by NJ Advance Media to reach a Reverend Jesus Danilo Giraldo listed as living in Puerto Rico failed.)

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Camden did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 10 priests are accused of sexual abuse in incidents from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, Anderson said. They have worked in Camden, Collingswood, Hammonton, Pennsauken, Waterford, Cherry Hill, Laurel Springs and Carney’s Point. He did not disclose the specific allegations against each priest or who made them.

None of the 10 priests are on the list of 56 ‘credibly accused’ clergy released by the Diocese of Camden in 2019. These names included priests involved in cases where the church had determined to be probably abuse.

James Reuter, a Camden native who said he was sexually assaulted in the diocese, was among the alleged victims who appeared at the press conference and urged the other victims to come forward before the bankruptcy court deadline.

“There may be others like me who have not yet identified or who have not yet given themselves permission to accept the facts and reality of the abuse. It’s a permission that’s hard to accept, ”said Reuter, 70.

He filed his lawsuit last year, alleging he was abused by two New Jersey priests, Rev. Walter T. Reilly and Rev. Francis J. McLaughlin. Both priests died years ago and are on the Diocese of Camden’s list of accused assailants credibly.

It took more than 50 years for Reuter to publicly admit that he had been abused, something his wife and family were not aware of, he said. He is one of the creditors listed in the Diocese of Camden bankruptcy pending financial settlement.

Although Reuter opted to be publicly named in his trial, many victims have sued as John Doe or Jane Doe to remain anonymous in court documents, lawyers said.

The Diocese of Camden’s bankruptcy filing complicated the timeline put in place by New Jersey lawmakers when they passed legislation lifting the statute of limitations to allow victims of sexual abuse to bring civil lawsuits against institutions , including the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and other groups.

Under New Jersey law, anyone can file a sexual abuse complaint for a period of two years – from December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2021 – regardless of how long the alleged abuse has been taking place. .

The law sparked a flood of lawsuits against New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses. Dioceses also set up the New Jersey Independent Victims Compensation Fund, a process in which victims could seek Catholic Church-funded settlements outside the court system.

The other four dioceses of New Jersey – the Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Metuchen, Paterson and Trenton – all face the same financial problems caused by the pandemic and the sexual abuse lawsuits. But none have indicated that they are considering filing for bankruptcy, as Camden and several neighboring New York dioceses have done in recent years.

Alleged victims in New Jersey’s other four dioceses still have until Nov. 30 to file civil lawsuits, according to state law.

Officials in the Diocese of Camden have said they want to be fair to victims of sexual abuse seeking a settlement during bankruptcy proceedings. But attempts at “good faith” mediation with a committee representing the victims and their lawyers have not gone well, diocese officials said.

“The diocese wants to continue paying survivors rather than lawyers and other professional counselors,” the Diocese of Camden said in a statement in January, noting that the victim’s average claim is around $ 115,000.

“Lawyers for the plaintiffs have done a lot of advertising so any plaintiff who wishes to come forward is well aware of the Chapter 11 process and should have this opportunity now. Instead of encouraging people to come forward, the plaintiffs’ lawyers seem to want to lengthen the process and see more money wasted on the quarrels, ”the statement said.

Since 1992, the Diocese of Camden has settled 170 claims and paid more than $ 20 million to victims, church officials said. It also paid more than $ 950,000 for “therapeutic care” to the victims.

When it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, the diocese faced more than 50 additional lawsuits and an unknown number of additional claims through the New Jersey Independent Victims Compensation Fund. It is not known how many additional claims and lawsuits have been filed since then.

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Kelly Heyboer can be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com.

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