‘I went through hell.’ 2 men settle child sex abuse lawsuits against Catholic schools

The Benedictine religious order in charge of the Delbarton School and the former St. Elizabeth’s School has settled two lawsuits from men who said they were sexually abused by monks when they were students over 45 years ago.

The settlements are the sixth and seventh in the last year in the sex abuse scandal involving the schools. In a letter to the community last summer, Delbarton leaders said 30 former students had reported being abused by 13 monks going back decades. Former students who said they were abused argue that the number of victims is much higher.

One of the men who settled, identified in court by the pseudonym John Doe, said that reliving everything and fighting in court was a hellish experience, and he didn’t settle for the money.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” said the man, who agreed to speak to NJ Advance Media on the condition his real name not be used.

“I have not gotten a dollar’s worth of pleasure from my settlement money,” he said. “Maybe I’m that damaged. I’ve been stuck in survival mode for so long.”

The settlement in his case was reported to a Superior Court judge on Dec. 13. Attorneys notified the court of the other settlement, involving plaintiff identified as J.D., on Feb. 7. Their attorney, Greg Gianforcaro, declined to disclose the amounts of the settlements, as did Doe.

Doe said that he was sexually abused by The Rev. Timothy Brennan more than 100 times at St. Elizabeth’s School between 1968 and 1971. He said “Brother Tim” groped him, rubbed against him, and masturbated in front of him, among other things.

The Order of St. Benedict operates Delbarton, an elite all-boys school at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morris Township. It also previously ran St. Elizabeth’s School in Linden, part of the parish is part of the Archdiocese of Newark. Doe named both the order and the archdiocese in his suit.

In the other settled suit, plaintiff J.D. said he was abused by Brennan, as well as Giacomo Pagano, a faculty member, and monk Beckett (Paul) Reiss at Delbarton between 1970 and 1972. Gianforcaro said J.D. did not want to be interviewed.

Brennan has been named in nine lawsuits in recent years, but the first publicly-reported settlement involving him was in 1988. A year before that, Brennan pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual contact and was given one year probation. He now lives in a Catholic community in Missouri known for treating troubled clergy.

Calls and emails to the attorneys for Brennan, Pagano and Reiss were not returned Wednesday or Thursday, but the men denied the claims in court filings.

‘He’d just laugh it off’

Doe, 63, of New Jersey, said he has struggled with anger issues and drug and alcohol addiction, though he’s now been sober 25 years. It wasn’t until 2015 that he began recalling what Brennan did to him, he said, and realizing the impact of the abuse.

“I felt like I did something wrong,” he said. “For months this stuff started coming back, and I went through hell. I did support groups, I went on medication.”

Doe said he was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. Elizabeth’s when he first met Brennan.

“He was normal, just really friendly. He started paying attention to me,” he said. By 7th grade, Brennan was treating him as a friend, he said. He started talking about sex with him and making sexual comments about other students.

Doe said he knows now Brennan was grooming him for abuse, trying to normalize the sexual behavior that would come next.

“His favorite thing to say when I was in grammar school was, ‘I can’t imagine your young, 8th-grade [penis]” Doe said. “He used to make that comment to me all the time.”

Doe said that when he was in 8th grade, Brennan progressed to masturbating under his robes while talking to him. Brennan tried to grab his penis several times, he said, and when he pushed Brennan’s hand away, “He’d just laugh it off.”

He would also purposely step so close to him that their bodies would touch, Doe said. “I call it crowding. I’d have to squeeze by his body and he was rubbing his erection on me,” he said.

Brennan knew his schedule, Doe said, and would walk through the locker room when Doe was changing, sometimes “grabbing himself” as he did.

Doe started attending a different school in 9th grade, but said Brennan would start up with the same abuse whenever Doe was on campus for sports.

Painful process

Doe said he felt that the attorneys for the Archdiocese and the Order of St. Benedict were purposely awful to him throughout the process, especially in his two days of deposition.

“They do not care about the victims and they are just totally trying every possible way to screw you,” he said.

Newark Archdiocese spokeswoman Maria Margiotta said it is “difficult for us to address the feelings a victim endures” during litigation when contacted for comment.

“However, we express sadness and regret to the victims and their families harmed by clergy and we remain hopeful that in resolving such cases, we are assisting in the victim’s healing process,” she said.

Anthony S. Cicatiello, a spokesman for the Order of St. Benedict, said plaintiffs including Doe are free to speak about their experiences, and the order regrets that Doe “feels that he was treated poorly.”

In addition to the seven suits that have settled, there are active lawsuits from three men and one woman who say they were all abused by Brennan while at St. Elizabeth’s. And Gianforcaro says he expects to file more litigation on behalf of survivors of abuse.

“I don’t anticipate claims against Delbarton, in one form or another, ending any time soon,” Gianforcaro said Wednesday.

The settlements come as the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, following the model of the Pennsylvania grand jury probe of clergy abuse, is working on its own investigation into how the Catholic Church in New Jersey has handled abuse allegations.

In a step toward transparency, the dioceses have said they will name all the credibly-accused priests in New Jersey sometime in early 2019. However, the Order of St. Benedict is not part of any diocese and has not decided whether it will name accused monks.

“We are evaluating processes related to the release of names and will make a decision when that is completed,” Cicatiello said Thursday.

Rebecca Everett