A New York Giants football team chaplain accused of sexual abuse more than 15 years ago and later reinstated by church officials — just in time to get a Super Bowl ring — was named in a lawsuit filed Monday by one of the two men who came forward years ago.
The priest, the Rev. William Dowd, was returned to ministry in 2007 after a church tribunal made up of priests acquitted him in a closed-door hearing. That decision came five years after a Newark Archdiocese review board, which included lay people, determined that the allegations warranted further action by church officials.
Also on Monday, five women said in court papers that they were abused as young girls by a Bergen County priest while their families attended parishes in Hackensack and Glen Rock.
The priest, Augustine Giella, died more than 25 years ago while awaiting trial after being charged with the sexual assault of a child. He's been accused of abusing five sisters from Pennsylvania after being transferred to that state from New Jersey. A Pennsylvania grand jury report listed him last year among 300 allegedly abusive clerics and called him an example of the Catholic Church's "wholesale institutional failure that endangered the welfare of children."
The cases filed Monday were among dozens of complaints made since a new state law took effect on Dec. 1, loosening restrictions on bringing sexual abuse lawsuits and suspending the civil statute of limitations for two years.
Dowd had been the New York Giants' chaplain in the 1990s but left that post and was placed on administrative leave when an accuser came forward to church officials in 2002. At the time, Dowd was pastor of St. Luke's parish in Ho-Ho-Kus.
He was returned to ministry and went back to work for the Giants in 2007. His status with the team was not known on Monday. The Giants could not be reached for comment.
The abuse survivor, James Gilson, 67, revealed his story at a Newark press conference Monday afternoon. Flanked by his attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Greg Gianforcaro, Gilson told the small crowd of reporters that he grew up in a troubled family with abuse and alcoholism and, when he was around 12, reached out for help, but the only person who paid him any attention was Father Dowd, then the pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair.
Dowd began abusing him in 1967, according to the lawsuit. "He would hug me, kiss me and touch me," Gilson said. When Gilson called him for help, Dowd told him to come to the rectory, where he offered him alcohol, "knowing full well that alcohol was a problem in my own home."
He said Dowd molested him in the priest's bedroom. Afterward, Dowd reprimanded the boy. "He said, `Jimmy, why did you make me do that?' I was never able to shake the feeling that I did that," Gilson said, adding that he suffered emotional problems as a result of the abuse and required years of therapy.
Years later, Gilson ran into Dowd, who handed him his business card, which indicated he was director of the Children's Youth Program in Kearny. Gilson, who is now an attorney living in Essex County, felt that he had to tell someone, because he feared Dowd would do the same thing to other children that the priest allegedly did to him.
But when he revealed his secret to another New Jersey priest, he said, he was rebuffed. "It's OK for men to kiss other men," the priest said, according to Gilson. Only later did Gilson learn that Dowd allegedly had another victim.
When Gilson finally reported the abuse to the Newark Archdiocese around 2002, he said church officials were skeptical of his claims.
A review board determined that his case warranted further action, but Dowd was acquitted by a panel of three priests from outside the Newark Archdiocese after a 2005 hearing. Church officials at the Vatican in Rome approved the decision in 2007. He was not returned to ministry in a parish, archdiocese officials said at the time, because of the "notoriety" of the case.
The priest went back to the Giants, leading Bible studies and counseling players during a season that ended with the team's Super Bowl victory in 2008. He continued in that job for years.
In 2012, he told NorthJersey.com that he had returned "just in time to get that Super Bowl ring."
"I don't understand how they could return him to ministry," said an incredulous Gilson.
Both accusers told an archdiocesan review board the same details about being brought to the priest's room in the church rectory, according to a former member of that board.
"Both of them described his bedroom exactly the same," said Margaret Pipchick of Cranford, who said she was a lay member on the review board when the case was heard. She said she expected the priest to be defrocked when the matter was sent to Rome.
"Rome decided that was not going to happen," said Pipchick, who said she is a member of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that supports priests and others who speak out about abuse in the church.
Dowd is not on the list of credibly accused priests that the Archdiocese of Newark released earlier this year. The Newark Archdiocese lists him as being retired in the 2018-19 priest directory.
The priest did not respond to a message seeking comment on Monday. The Newark Archdiocese declined to comment on the suit. It said in a statement that "today and every day, we stand with survivors of clergy abuse on their journey towards healing. We reassure the faithful that we continue to do all we can to promote the healing of victims, to enact structures of accountability, and to provide greater transparency into the activities of the Archdiocese of Newark."
Gianforcaro and Anderson also filed five other lawsuits on behalf of five women alleging that they were abused by Giella when he was stationed at churches in Hackensack and Glen Rock decades ago.
The priest is accused of sexually abusing three girls whose families were parishioners at Holy Trinity in Hackensack the early 1960s. Two of the women said in court papers that they were 6 years old when the abuse started. The other was 9 years old.
Giella is also accused of sexually abusing two girls whose families attended St. Catharine parish in Glen Rock over five years starting in 1976, when the girls were 6 and 7.
The women from Hackensack — Micheline Esposito, Catherine McCormick and Deborah Gonzalez, who are all in their 60s — said Giella sexually abused them during Girl Scouts meetings in the Holy Trinity basement.
"He was a monster," Gonzalez said, adding that a "code of silence" prevented the other parish priests, who knew of the abuse, from saying anything to protect the children. "I blame those who were in charge ... he could have been stopped."
In a tearful recollection of her experience, Gonzalez said Giella would sit in a large chair in the basement and hold her in his lap while placing his hands on her private parts. Sometimes he would move the chair to more quiet areas.
"I'd try to get away from him," but he was faster, she said.
The attorneys said the mother of one of their clients told a Hackensack priest about the alleged abuse in the early 1960s, but that Giella continued working and allegedly abused more children.
He previously was accused of sexually abusing five sisters in Pennsylvania after being transferred from New Jersey in 1980. One of them went to law enforcement, leading to the priest's 1992 arrest.
The Pennsylvania report noted that Giella had worked for 29 years in New Jersey until he "suddenly decided to seek ministry elsewhere" and was moved to the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Attorneys for the New Jersey women said in a news release that Giella — whose alleged abuse spanned three decades — was "among the worst of the clergy sexual abusers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania."
His Newark Archdiocese jobs included parishes in Hackensack, Glen Rock, Cliffside Park and Jersey City.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday, plaintiff’s attorneys took aim at the church’s highest reaches. John Bellocchio, a former altar boy in Hackensack, sued the Holy See, the Diocese of Rome overseen by the Pope, for allegedly turning a blind eye to sexual abuse cases around the globe.
Church officials “directed its bishops in the United States to conceal from its parishioners and the general public the sexual abuse of children committed by its priests, bishops, cardinals, clerics, agents and employees in order to avoid public scandal, and to perpetuate its Christian public image and power,” said the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, which asked for at least $75,000 in damages.
Bellocchio, now 37, sued the Archdiocese of Newark in state court last week, claiming he had been abused by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
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