Former Delbarton student seeks to void confidentiality agreement in molestation settlement

(Daily Record) A judge Wednesday said he wants to hear evidence and direct testimony before deciding whether a former Delbarton student who settled lawsuit claims in 1988 of being molested by a priest can be freed from a confidentiality clause so he can discuss the case and settlement sum.

For nearly two hours, attorney Gregory Gianforcaro, who represents the abuse victim referred to as John Doe, argued in Morristown that the man now living on the West Coast should be released from a confidentiality agreement that bars him from talking about the settlement reached 25 years ago with the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, which runs the private Delbarton School for males in Morris Township.

“Confidentiality should never be tolderated when it deals with a child victim of sexual abuse. We didn’t know it in 1988 but we know it now,” Gianforcaro told Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury. The lawyer suggested it would be “cathartic” for the victim to speak publicly about the abuse.

Delbarton attorney Chuck Carella wanted the judge to dismiss Gianforcaro’s complaint, arguing that the settlement is an enforceable contract entered into by the victim when he was an adult, supported by his parents and represented by a lawyer.

“It’s a contract case — nothing more, nothing less,” said Carella. He also argued that Gianforcaro last year breached the private pact when he allegedly disclosed to the media that John Doe got an “approximately seven-figure settlement” after molestation by the order’s then-Rev. Timothy Brennan, who was prosecuted for the crime.

Hansbury didn’t rule in favor of either side. He said there is no New Jersey case law on point with the John Doe case and he needs to take evidence and in all likelihood hear testimony from John Doe, probably in a closed courtroom. The lawyers were ordered to report back to Hansbury in a week on evidence they would produce to support their sides.

After the hearing, Order of St. Benedict spokesman Anthony Cicatiello said in a statement: “We understand the decision of the court and we are prepared to bring this case to trial. We are confident of the facts and are resolved to see this case through to its conclusion.“

Calling the issue an important societal one, Hansbury said: “I think we’ve got to look at a balancing of the issues here.”

While Carella persisted in arguing that contract law upholds confidentiality agreements, Gianforcaro got animated and emotional at times as he alleged Delbarton is engaging in a “cover up” and that its Abbot in 2002, The Right Reverend Thomas J. Confroy, vowed in a letter to parents, alumni and trustees that sexual abuse allegations against priests would be dealt with through “openness, candor and fairness to all concerned.”

The Abbot in 2002 wrote his letter after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Dallas to address a national scandal of sexual abuse against children by priests. The result of the conference was approval of a special charter for the protection of children and young people. While the Order of St. Benedict is autonomous and not obligated to follow the Dallas charter, it promised to adhere to it as of 2002, according to Confroy’s letter.

Gianforcaro argued that the 2002 promise meant the priests who ran Delbarton intended a policy of transparency on any sexual abuse case, before or after 2002, but Carella disagreed. The judge also expressed skepticism that Delbarton in 2002 intended to adopt a policy that would allow any confidential lawsuit settlement before 2002 to be opened.

“Those policies are retroactive to the beginning of time? Is that logical?” the judge said.

While a bench trial would occur on whether the gag order against John Doe should be lifted, Gianforcaro said that the 2002 Abbot’s promise and also public policy mandate an end to the confidentiality agreement. A key issue the judge will decide is whether Delbarton’s stated policy of candor and transparency on sexual abuse issues can be applied retroactively.

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Former Delbarton student seeks to void confidentiality agreement in molestation settlement
Peggy Wright
Daily Record
June 5, 2013