Three sex abuse lawsuits, including one naming disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick as the alleged abuser, were filed on Thursday, Sept. 16 in a New Jersey court. All three lawsuits also named the Diocese of Metuchen as a defendant.
Jeff Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, brought the lawsuits. In an online press conference on Thursday, Anderson called on the Metuchen diocese to release additional information on accusations against current and former clergy.
“We challenge you to account and take responsibility for each of these cases, and also challenge you to come clean with the full truth,” Anderson said. “[We] invite you, implore you, to release more names and information that have been kept secret by the Diocese of Metuchen for too long.”
A spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Thursday afternoon that two of the lawsuits involved clergy who were not ordained for the diocese, adding that the diocese would not have access to their personal records or outcomes of investigations against them.
The first lawsuit filed named McCarrick, who served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1981 until 1986, as the abuser in question. According to the lawsuit, McCarrick engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was bishop of Metuchen from approximately 1982 to 1985. The plaintiff was between the ages of 19 and 22 during that period.
McCarrick’s attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday.
McCarrick, 91, on July 28 was criminally charged in a Massachusetts court with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The incidents allegedly took place with a 16-year-old male in the 1970s. McCarrick appeared for his arraignment on Sept. 3 in Massachusetts’ Dedham District Court, and pleaded “not guilty” to the charges. His next court date is Oct. 28.
He was once an influential and high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church, before numerous accusations against him were made public in 2018, alleging past sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, after a Vatican canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”
The second lawsuit filed on Thursday named Fr. John Butler, a laicized priest who died in 2016, as the alleged abuser of a minor. Butler, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, served in numerous dioceses throughout his career including in Metuchen.
According to the lawsuit, Butler abused a minor between the ages of 9 to 12, from approximately 1995 to 1998. The plaintiff was attending St. John Vianney school in Colonia, New Jersey at the time, where Fr. Butler was employed.
Butler was removed from public ministry in 2002 and was laicized shortly thereafter. He is not on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen, but does appear on the list of accused priests from the Diocese of Richmond, his home diocese.
The third lawsuit names Br. Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who similarly does not appear on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen. Moccia is accused of abusing a young teen at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, in 1981 and 1982. He died in 2000.
Moccia was first accused of abuse in a September 2020 lawsuit; Anderson claimed that this suit inspired another alleged victim of his to come forward.
“It’s also notable that Moccia is not on the list [of credibly-accused clergy] released by the Diocese of Metuchen, even though that suit has been brought by us naming him as an offender of children at St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, earlier,” Anderson said on Thursday.
Anderson called on the Diocese of Metuchen to release additional names of credibly accused clergy, and claimed that there are at least 15 additional names that have not yet been released.
In a statement to CNA on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Metuchen diocese promised prayer for abuse survivors, and said that neither Fr. Butler nor Brother Regis were ordained priests of the diocese.
“First and foremost, we hold in prayer all survivors of abuse, among them those survivors who have courageously come forward to bring their past abuse to light,” said Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesman and chancellor for the diocese.
Regarding the case of Fr. Butler, he was ordained for the Richmond diocese “and is listed accordingly on their list of credibly accused clergy,” Kearns said. Brother Regis was a member of a religious order and not a diocesan priest, he said.
“In both cases, the diocese would not have access to any personnel records nor the outcomes of any investigations that would have resulted from allegations against them,” Kearns said.
“The Diocese of Metuchen has taken more aggressive steps forward since the adoption of the abuse prevention policies in 2002 and was recently found compliant with all audited Articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the audit period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021,” he said.
New Jersey in 2019 relaxed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse and sex abuse of adults. The two-year window for such lawsuits to be filed expires Nov. 30.
Anderson has filed other civil sex abuse lawsuits naming McCarrick. In July, he filed a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey court accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1986.
In July 2020, Anderson filed a lawsuit alleging that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy and aided his abuse by several other priests in the early 1980s, characterizing McCarrick as leading a "sex ring."
Anderson has sued many Catholic dioceses and religious orders over the years. While some say he has been an effective advocate for sex abuse victims, critics say he has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation, and that he is a self-promoter.
According to the lawsuit naming McCarrick, the plaintiff’s family resided in the Archdiocese of New York and had contact with McCarrick while he was a representative of the archdiocese. McCarrick was a priest secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke of New York beginning in 1971, and served as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1977 until 1981, when he was made bishop of Metuchen.
McCarrick later served as Archbishop of the Archdioceses of Newark and Washington, and played an influential role in the global Catholic Church. He helped craft the U.S. Church’s response to revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in 2002. He also made numerous international trips for peacebuilding and ecumenical causes, and was known as an effective fundraiser.
In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York revealed that a decades-old allegation of sex abuse against McCarrick was “credible.” News reports subsequently detailed more allegations of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. According to a July 2018 New York Times report, Metuchen was one of the dioceses to have reached a settlement with a former priest, regarding allegations of abuse against McCarrick committed while the priest was a seminarian.
McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and was laicized in February 2019. He is the first U.S. Catholic cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse.
The Vatican in November 2020 released a report of more than 450 pages on the “institutional knowledge and decision-making” regarding McCarrick and his clerical career.