In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a historic report. It documented decades of sexual abuse within the state’s Catholic Dioceses. The report came after a two-year investigation led by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The report identified more than 1,000 victims of clergy abuse over several decades. It also highlighted graphic victim accounts of abuse. Responses of outrage and shock followed the release of the report. Several states responded by initiating similar investigations. New Jersey was one such state.
NJ Task Force Created
In September 2018, New Jersey created a task force to investigate priest abuse in the state. New Jersey’s Attorney General appointed former acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino to lead the task force.
The task force has two main undertakings:
- They investigate priest abuse allegations across the state.
- They review agreements between law enforcement and the state dioceses. Namely, the task force is reviewing whether the dioceses followed the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding.
At the end of the investigation, the state plans to release a report similar to the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
The 2002 Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement between the New Jersey dioceses and state law enforcement. The agreement sets up a channel and protocols to report abuse to law enforcement.
To accomplish their goals, the task force was given subpoena power. This means the task force can request relevant documents and records. This legal power can be crucial to collecting evidence from private institutions such as the Church.
The task force also created a 24-hour toll-free hotline. Anyone with information regarding clergy abuse that occurred in New Jersey is encouraged to report the allegations to the hotline. Substantiated claims could either lead to criminal charges and/or be included in the final investigation report.
Task Force 24-Hour Toll-Free Hotline: (855) 363-6548
In 2019, state lawmakers extended the legal deadlines to file civil claims of sexual abuse. Following these changes to state laws, more calls were made to the hotline. To date, the hotline has received hundreds of calls and leads.
NJ Investigation Leads to Arrests
As more calls and leads come in through the hotline, the task force may choose to press charges against abusers. Within one year of the creation of the task force, two priests have been arrested and charged with the sexual assault of a minor.
Father Thomas P. Ganley
In January 2019, Father Thomas P. Ganley was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault of a minor. His arrest came two days after his victim called the state hotline to report the abuse. Ganley was the first priest arrested during the investigation.
The abuse occurred in the early 90s when Ganley was a priest and youth group leader. His victim was a female under the age of sixteen and a member of the youth group.
In August 2019, after an hour-long hearing, the judge sentenced Ganley to four years in prison in part for his crimes and for his lack of remorse. Ganley will also have to register as a sex offender and was removed from the priesthood.
Father Brendan Williams
Father Brendan Williams was the second priest charged by the state task force for crimes of sexual assault. Like Ganley, Williams was arrested following allegations made to the state hotline. Williams was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in the late 90s. His victim was a female under thirteen years of age. At the time of his arrest, Williams was not active in ministry. He retired in 2012.
As the investigation continues, more leads could result in arrests. If you are aware of a case of childhood sexual abuse in the state of New Jersey, consider reporting the abuse to the task force. You can find more information about the hotline here.
Heyboer, K. (2018, September 23) Here’s what you should do if you know someone abused by a Catholic priest in N.J. NJ.com
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. (N.D.) NJ Clergy Abuse Task Force.
Nieto-Munoz, S. (2019, August 26). Priest Gets 4 Years for Raping Minor in the 90s in First Conviction after AG’s Clergy Abuse Task Force. NJ.com
Sheldon, C. (2019, September 20). 2nd priest charged with sexual assault after tip to Attorney General’s clergy abuse hotline. NJ.com
State of New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. (2002). New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Obtains First-in-nation Agreement with Statewide Catholic Dioceses for Reporting Sexual Offenses to Country Prosecutors & Police [Press Release].