Ex-St. Joseph, Bergen Catholic teachers named in NJ abuse lawsuit


Eleven new abuse lawsuits were filed against the New Jersey Catholic Church on Wednesday, including three naming former teachers at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell and another against a instructor now deceased in St. Joseph Haute Régionale in Montvale.

The lawsuits were the latest among hundreds of complaints filed in the two years since New Jersey has lifted its statute of limitations to old claims for sexual abuse. They come as the window for such cases expires next month.

“We are getting more and more calls now,” Phillipsburg attorney Greg Gianforcaro said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that he planned to file “dozens” of more lawsuits in the weeks to come.

Kevin Kiernan is pictured outside a hotel in Ramsey on Thursday, November 19, 2020. Kiernan has filed a complaint claiming he was abused by two brothers from Xavieran's order while a student in the years 1980 at St. Joseph Regional High School.  in Montvale, New Jersey.

“Time is running out. November 30 is the end of the window. Anyone who wants to bring a case has that so far,” Gianforcaro said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the 11 lawsuits.

St. Joseph and Bergen Catholic officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

The lawsuits were filed under the New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill, which came into effect on December 1, 2019, and temporarily lifted the civil statute of limitations.

Since then, lawsuits have poured in against the five Catholic dioceses of New Jersey, including the Archdiocese of Newark, which oversees the counties of Bergen and Passaic, as well as the Boy Scouts of America and other institutions accused of ignoring past abuses.

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In the latest lawsuits in Essex County State Superior Court, plaintiffs allege sexual irregularities by priests and teachers who worked in local schools and parishes years ago. According to attorneys for Gianforcaro Law and Jeff Anderson & Associates, the firms overseeing the complaints, none of the defendants are still in active ministry.

All lawsuits were filed by adults who chose to remain anonymous. Many of them said they had not been able to speak out about their abuse for years or that they were pushed back when they attempted to report it.

One of the complaints alleges abuse by John Dagwell, a former St. Joseph soccer coach and brother of the Xavier religious order, also named in a lawsuit last year.

Dagwell was named in a similar lawsuit last year and died in March 2020. He was convicted of abusing another St. Joseph student in the 1980s.

While many other states have also suspended the statute of limitations for abuse lawsuits, New Jersey’s law is considered one of the most extensive in the country.

People who did not want to sue also had the option of filing a complaint with a victim compensation program established by the dioceses to compensate victims who agreed not to take their case to court. The fund distributed millions of dollars to victims, but hundreds of people chose the route of prosecution instead.

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: yellin@northjersey.com

Twitter: @deenayellin

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