Diocese of Camden releases names of 56 offender priests
CAMDEN – The Diocese of Camden on Wednesday named 56 priests and one deacon “credibly accused” of the sexual abuse of minors.
In releasing the list, Bishop Dennis Sullivan described the sexual abuse of minors by clergymen as “the darkest stain on the Catholic Church in the last century.”
“Unfortunately, we have all learned that this ‘filth,’ as Pope Benedict correctly called it, was more pervasive than anyone imagined, or even thought possible,” the bishop said in a statement.
He said most of the offenders preyed on teenaged boys in the 1970s and 1980s, and that 38 of the priests were dead.
The “last credible report” of a minor’s sexual abuse by a diocesan priest occurred in 1995, Sullivan added.
“This is not in any way to excuse what had happened — and it certainly is not to excuse the failings of bishops and other leaders in the church at that time,” he said.
The offender priests served at parishes throughout the Camden diocese, which holds some 475,000 Catholics in six South Jersey counties.
A similar list of 30 names was released by the Diocese of Trenton, which includes Burlington County.
The Camden diocese most recently disclosed an incident of clergy abuse last month, when it said the Rev. John Bohrer had been removed from ministry due to an allegation from the mid-1980s.
Bohrer, 74, most recently was administrator for St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Collingswood and Haddon Township. The alleged abused occurred while Bohrer served at St. Pius X Parish in Cherry Hill, the diocese said.
At least two of the named priests were the focus of lawsuits filed by alleged victims in recent years.
The diocese in June 2014 settled a lawsuit brought by Lisa Syvertson Shanahan, a North Carolina woman who claimed she was molested in 1980 and 1981 by Thomas Harkins, a parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Hammonton.
Her suit claimed Harkins was moved from the parish in 1982 after another girl accused him of assaulting her, but that church officials did not make that public.
An Ohio man, Mark Bryson, settled a suit in November 2013 that alleged childhood abuse by the Rev. Joseph Shannon at a Camden parish, also called St. Anthony of Padua.
The diocese initially fought the suits, arguing Shanahan and Bryson had waited too long to sue.
“Finally the tide is turning in favor of the victims, rather than protecting these pedophile priests,” said Daniel Hartstein, a Cherry Hill attorney who represented Shanahan.
“This went on for decades when it could have and should have been stopped,” he said. “So many lives were altered in such a negative, horrible way.”
The diocese in 2016 made financial settlements to resolve separate claims of clergy sex abuse involving two parish priests in the 1950s and 1960s.
Those claims alleged assaults on boys by the Rev. Joseph Brennan at the former St. Maurice Parish in Brooklawn and the Rev. Philip Mathews at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Berlin Borough.
Sullivan described the clergymen named Wednesday as “a small percentage” of the more than 800 priests who have served in the diocese since its founding in 1937.
He said the names include “those who admitted to the abuse, those who were found guilty after a trial in the church courts or the civil courts, and others against whom the evidence was so overwhelming as to be virtually unquestionable.”
The bishop said “many cases” involved a single allegation “from 30 or 40 years ago” that was received after the alleged offender had died.
All of the offenders’ names have been reported to law enforcement agencies, the bishop said.
“As we have done often, we pray that God will continue to look after the victims and survivors of the priest sex abuse scandal,” Sullivan said.
The list does not include four allegations from the 1960s and 1970s that are being referred to the Diocesan Review Board for a determination as to their credibility, Sullivan said.
The Camden diocese said it took part in a statewide release of priests’ names Wednesday as part of an “ongoing commitment to transparency and to encourage persons sexually abused by clergy to come forward.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who last year established a task force to investigate alleged abuse by Catholic clergy, called the release of the names “a positive first step towards transparency and accountability.”
He expressed hope that “this spirit of opening continues during the course of our ongoing investigation and in response to our requests for records and information.”
Grewal also noted a tip line established by his office had received “hundreds of calls” and said “there are many others who were abused as children and adults.”
Sullivan urged victims to register with a recently announced Independent Victims Compensation Program, when that program is launched in the coming months. “The program will handle submissions, evaluations, and settlements of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor,” Sullivan said.
It will operate independently of the participating dioceses, he added.
Hartstein, the Cherry Hill attorney, described the diocesan actions as progress, but asserted, “Everything in their power should be done to make it right for these victims.”
He also called for New Jersey to extend the statute of limitations for civil suits brought by victims of child sexual abuse, who typically face a legal deadline on their 20th birthdays.
Jim Walsh: @jimwalsh_cp; 856-486-2646; firstname.lastname@example.org
On the web
See list of 188 accused priests statewide. Check www.thedailyjournal.com.