(NJ.com) MORRISTOWN — William P. Wolfe — who was sexually abused by a priest at the Delbarton School when he was a 14-year-old student there — had waited 30 years to tell his story.
Today the Morris Township prep school settled a lawsuit filed by the 44-year-old Wolfe, and released him from a confidentiality agreement he signed in 1988.
“I’m exceedingly happy,” Wolfe said. “I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”
The agreement, announced in Superior Court in Morristown, means Wolfe, who filed the suit as “John Doe,” can use his own name and speak about the abuse at the hands of the Rev. Timothy Brennan. The cleric pleaded guilty to criminal sexual contact in 1987.
The agreement still bars Wolfe from discussing the amount of the settlement, and a lawsuit filed by Delbarton against his lawyer is remains unresolved. The school sued the lawyer, Gregory Gianforcaro, for violating the confidentiality agreement in 2012, after he said publicly the settlement was in the seven figures.
In an interview with The Star-Ledger today, Wolfe said that although years of therapy have been helpful, “this was one of the most therapeutic events that has happened to me in my life. I keep checking to see that the ground is under my feet.”
“If there is one person out there who is sitting at home drinking himself into a stupor (over the abuse), I would hope that this would give them hope to find some help,” he added.
Asked if he planned to become a spokesman on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by priests, Wolfe said he was “certainly open to offering any kind of help I can.”
Wolfe credited Gianforcaro for doing “a great deal of work on this,” and thanked the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey, who govern Delbarton, for agreeing to release him from the agreement.
“It was a very important step that will allow me to move forward with the rest of my life, and I hope that this will allow others to continue this process of healing from this crisis that has so deeply affected members of the Catholic community,” Wolfe said.
St. Mary’s Abbey issued a statement in which it said, “We are pleased that we reached an amicable settlement” and noting that “confidentiality as to the amount of the settlement was the primary concern” for the abbey.
“From the abbey’s perspective, what was needed was for this gentleman to heal,” said a spokesman, Tony Cicatiello. “They never felt money would assist in the healing process. (The settlement) was the right thing to do at this time for this individual.”
Brennan could not be reached for comment, but Cicatiello said he lived in a hospital facility out of state and “has little contact with the outside world.”
Wolfe, who is married and lives in Studio City, Calif., works in the information technology industry. He says that because of the incidents with Brennan, “I haven’t lived up to the potential people would have thought.”
Wolfe said he spent his high school years pursuing the criminal case against Brennan, and his college years at the University of Colorado pursuing the civil case.
“As an abuse survivor, it affects your confidence, it affects your ability to trust people,” he said.
Wolfe, who grew up in Morristown, said the abuse experience was “devastating” and “very humiliating.”
“I was a devout Catholic to the point where I was thinking of attending the monastery,” he said. “This completely ripped the faith from under my feet.”
Wolfe said that while he still considers himself a “spiritual” person, he no longer practices any religion. He described his wife as a non-observant Jew who is also not involved in any organized religion, but that they celebrate religious holidays.
Opening up for the first time, Wolfe said Brennan “groomed” him to trust him before trying to satisfy his sexual urges. Brennan had served as his counselor “for issues of not quite fitting in at Delbarton,” Wolfe said.
“He showed me progressively more graphic pornography, and I was encouraged to expose myself in front of him” and masturbate, Wolfe said.
After pleading guilty in 1987, Brennan was sentenced to six months in a facility for clerics who are sex offenders.
Wolfe said he initially wanted to drop the confidentiality agreement in 2002, after a newspaper article appeared to identify him, but he was unable to “speak out.”
He said he decided to file the lawsuit in 2012 after he tried to help another victim of sex abuse at the hands of a Morris County priest. The victim, Bill Crane, who has spoken out on the issue, told Wolfe the best way he could help would be to end the confidentiality agreement.
Gianforcaro said he was “extremely happy” with the outcome, and Wolfe’s sister, Lisa Gerwig, said she was “unbelievably proud” of her brother.
“I’m just grateful this is over for my son so he can continue healing,” said his mother, Donna Wolfe.
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In lawsuit settlement, Delbarton releases sex abuse victim from confidentiality agreement
June 5, 2014