Twenty-one men sued the Diocese of Paterson and Bishop Frank Rodimer yesterday, contending that clergy members had sexually abused them.
Most of the plaintiffs say they were abused as children by the Rev. James T. Hanley, a retired priest who has been the focus of numerous abuse complaints since sex-abuse allegations erupted in the Roman Catholic Church in 2002.
“Today is a day to recall the suffering that happens to children and continues as they grow into adulthood,” said Mark Serrano, a leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Serrano has accused Hanley of molesting him but is not a plaintiff in the suit filed yesterday in state Superior Court. He was one of the first in the nation to speak out about abuse in violation of a confidentiality agreement he signed with the church in settling earlier legal action.
Hanley, who has declined to discuss the allegations, asked church officials to remove him from the priesthood in June 2002 after Rodimer presented him with the new church policy on sexual abuse adopted by U.S. bishops.
He had served at St. Joseph’s in Mendham, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pompton Plains, and St. Christopher’s in Parsippany from 1968 to 1982. He now lives in a diocesan retirement home in Paterson.
Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said church officials had not yet seen the lawsuit. “However, we intend to defend this suit vigorously,” she said, declining to comment further.
A second priest named in the lawsuit, the Rev. Thomas Rainforth, who served at St. Joseph’s with Hanley, was investigated by the diocese but cleared of any wrongdoing in November 2002.
The suit also names Deacon Carlos Guzmon, an employee of the diocese who attended an Our Lady of Holy Rosary parish event where abuse is alleged to have occurred, Gianforcaro said.
Rodimer, 75, has asked to retire this year, but the Vatican has not acted on the request.