2 new sex abuse suits filed against Metuchen Diocese include clerics not accused before

Bridgewater Courier News/September 9, 2020

By Nick Muscavage

Two lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church on Wednesday include allegations of sexual abuse against two clerics — including a brother who worked at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen.

The suits, brought under the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act and New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill, allege abuse by Brother Regis Moccia and the Rev. Patrick H. Barrett, both who had not been publicly accused of abuse before Wednesday.

One lawsuit alleges that Moccia, a member of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, sexually abused a 13- to 14-year-old from approximately 1994 to 1995 while the plaintiff was a student at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, a school in the Diocese of Metuchen staffed by the religious order.

The other lawsuit alleges that Barrett sexually abused a minor parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Port Reading section of Woodbridge from approximately 1983 to 1984 when the plaintiff was 9 to 10 years old.

“The courageous survivors who brought suit today are reclaiming the power that was stolen from them as children,” attorney Greg Gianforcaro said. “We are honored to stand with them in their pursuit of truths that have been hidden for far too long.”

“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,” attorney Jeff Anderson said. “It’s time for a reckoning in the Diocese of Metuchen.”

Anthony P. Kearns III, spokesperson and chancellor for the Diocese of Metuchen, said diocesan officials have not received the lawsuit and cannot comment on pending litigation, but "our prayers are with all survivors of abuse, today and always, that they may experience healing and hope."

He said Moccia died in 2002 and Barrett died in 2005.

"Since that time and for nearly 20 years, the Diocese of Metuchen has taken decisive steps forward to ensure there is no room for abuse to fester or remain hidden in the darkness," Kearns said. "The Diocese of Metuchen remains in full compliance with the Dallas Charter – the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People signed by the U.S. bishops, and since 2002, has required background checks for all clergy, employees and volunteers; safe environment training for all who work or volunteer with children; and has strongly enforced a zero-tolerance policy."

Kearns said the Diocese of Metuchen also relies on a review board to handle every accusation as soon as it is received unless there is an active criminal investigation.

"No cleric who has had a credible accusation of child sexual abuse is in active ministry," he said.

Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that the two would have never publicly been named as alleged abusers if New Jersey had not revamped its statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.

"Such laws have empowered victims empowered victims to come forward, start healing and get information into the public that well help protect children and our communities," Crawford said.

Both plaintiffs filed their lawsuits anonymously in state Superior Cour in New Brunswick.

One lawsuit, which names St. Joseph High School and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart as defendants in addition to the Diocese of Metuchen, claims Moccia "engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with plaintiff."

The lawsuit claims that the Diocese of Metuchen, St. Joseph and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart knew or should have known that Moccia "was a danger to children" before he allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff and that prior to the sexual abuse they should have learned Moccia "was not fit to work with children."

Instead, they negligently allowed Moccia to work with children, according to the lawsuit.

The defendants knew, or should have known, that the Diocese of Metuchen, St. Joseph and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart "had numerous agents who had sexually molested children," the lawsuit claims. The defendants knew, or should have known, "that child molesters have a high rate of recidivism," it claims.

The defendants knew, or should have known, "that some of the leaders and people working in Catholic institutions within the diocese were not safe and that there was a specific danger of child sex abuse for children participating in their youth programs," the lawsuit claims.

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The other lawsuit details how the plaintiff participated in youth and church activities at St. Anthony of Padua while growing up in a devout Roman Catholic family in the early 1980s.

The plaintiff's family knew Barrett and placed their trust in him, but that trust was betrayed when plaintiff was around 9 or 10 years old when "Barrett engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with plaintiff," according to the lawsuit.

The diocese failed to protect the plaintiff from a child sexual abuser, according to the lawsuit, and breached its duty to by failing to warn the plaintiff’s family of the risk that Barrett posed and "the risks of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions."

The diocese also "violated a legal duty by failing to report known and/or suspected abuse of children" by Barrett or its other priests and employees to the child protection agencies, police and law enforcement, according to the lawsuit.

As a result of this abuse, the plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer severe and permanent emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation, physical, personal and psychological injuries, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff has incurred expenses for psychological treatment, therapy and counseling as a result of the abuse, the lawsuit says

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