A man who is suing the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, as well as a Catholic parish in Rutherford, alleging he was sexually abused more than 30 years ago, identified himself publicly on October 7. He said now that he has come forward, perhaps lawmakers would feel pressured to end the statute of limitations on civil cases. The 48-year-old Hoboken man, Stephen Marlowe, said he was serving St. Mary’s Church in Rutherford as an altar boy when he was only 12 years old and that is when Reverend David Ernst sexually abused him.
Ernst, who had also served in parishes in Ridgefield Park and Wyckoff, was one of the nine priests accused of sexually abusing minors, all of whom were compensated in a $1 million settlement in 2004. While Marlowe struggled with his childhood trauma, unsure whether or not to talk about it, Ernst died in 1988.
When Marlowe eventually filed the lawsuit in Superior Court of Bergen County last month, he was identified only by his initials. In his suit, he claimed that St. Mary’s in Rutherford, its Archdiocese and other members of the church were negligent in allowing Ernst to have unsupervised access to children, despite being aware of his deviant behavior. According to the lawsuit, religious leaders of the organization refused to remove or suspend Ernst and investigate claims against him even though they had received complaints against Ernst from various quarters. Marlowe alleged that the church therefore participated in covering up Ernst’s crimes. Two other former archbishops named in the suit were Theodore Edgar McCarrick and Peter Leo Gerety. The complaint alleged that Marlowe’s sexual abuse led him to suffer physically, mentally and emotionally as well.
With the support of his family and lawyer, Marlowe stood outside the State House, holding a picture of himself as a young boy, and demanded that lawmakers end the statute of limitations on civil cases.
“Thank you to all the survivors who have gone public before me, to seek justice, to encourage others and to start our fight against those who would harm children,” Marlowe said. “Your courage gave me the hope and a reason to go forward.”
Under the existing law, a person has two years, from the time he or she has been sexually abused, to take action. Marlowe said the state’s time limit on filing lawsuits was the most important factor that led him to lodge his complaint.
“The state determines which cases go forward, not based on merit, but because of a deadline,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe’s lawyer Gregory Gianforcaro said the law must allow victims of sexual abuse to speak out even years later because children who are subjected to such crimes often do not comprehend it or come to terms with it before a few decades have passed.
“Many abusers who abused in the past are still out there abusing and are able to get away with it because there really is no concrete mechanism or concrete law for the victim to go to court and seek justice,” Gianforcaro said. “If we, as a society, in New Jersey, are really going to be able to discover where the abusers are — and where the abusers have hidden or been allowed to hide — we have to provide a voice and mechanism for victims in the past to speak out.”
State Senator Joseph Vitale, has co-sponsored a bill that would do away with the statute of limitations on cases of child sex abuse but that bill has not had a committee hearing as yet. However, Vitale did push for another bill during the previous legislative session, which did succeed in passing the committee but failed to the floor for a full Senate vote.
“Adults with lifelong psychological, debilitating scars should be able to hold the individuals that abused them, or the organizations that enabled their abuse, accountable,” Vitale said.
A woman at St. Mary’s Church referred all media inquiries to the Archdiocese, whose spokesperson said he would not comment on the matter, since the case has not been decided.
Photo Credit: Catholic News USA