Roman Catholic Dioceses in New Jersey and Massachusetts recently announced settlements to resolve clergy sexually abuse lawsuits over two priests who allegedly molested children in their care for years.
The New Jersey agreement resolves five cases involving the Rev. Michael “Mitch” Walter, who allegedly abused both boys and girls while serving at St. Cassian Church and St. John Nepomucene Parish during the 1980s and 1990s.
Although Walter denies the allegations, he was removed from ministry in 2016.
“The Archdiocese of Newark is working diligently towards the healing and reconciliation of survivors and seeks to resolve all claims, whether through mediation or otherwise,” the Archdiocese of Newark said in statement issued last month. “We are hopeful that the settlement of these five claims will begin the healing process for the victims-survivors, and we continue to work toward the resolutions of similar matters,” the archdiocese said in a statement.”
According to NJ.com, a sixth claim involving Walter remains pending.
In court filings, Church attorneys maintained the case should be dismissed because of contributory negligence” or “comparative negligence,” basically implying the alleged victim was partially at fault for the abuse.
So far, the Catholic Church has paid out more than $50 million to settle clergy sexual abuse lawsuits involving hundreds of New Jersey priests
Recently, the New Jersey Attorney General created a task force to investigate abuse allegations and possible cover-ups by Catholic officials. Anyone wishing to report sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in New Jersey can contact the task force at (855) 363-6548.
The Massachusetts settlement resolves clergy sexual abuse lawsuits filed on behalf of two men who allegedly endured years of abuse at the hands of Monsignor Maurice Souza.
The men were altar boys at St. Anthony’s Parish during the late 1970s and early 1980s, where Souza served from 1977 to 1996. According to their complaints, the plaintiffs’ abuse began when they were 9 or 10 and lasted into their late teens.
Among other things, they claimed diocesan officials knew Souza frequently hosted young boys for overnight stays at the St. Anthony rectory and took them on overnight trips.
Souza died in 1996 at the age of 83.
Just last week, the New York state legislature overwhelmingly approved the Child Victims Act, which will give adult survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators, as well as the public and private institutions that enabled their abusers.
Introduced in 2006, the New York Child Victims Act faced fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and other powerful interests. Although it passed the State Assembly by an overwhelming majority year after year, the bill never made it through the Senate.
That all changed last November, however, when Democrats won control of the Senate in the midterm elections. The Child Victims Act finally passed both houses of New York Legislature last week and will soon be signed into law by Governor Cuomo.
In addition to extending the statute of limitations governing civil lawsuits until a survivor’s 55th birthday, the New York Child Victims Act opens a one-year window to give those over 55 a chance to revive otherwise time-barred claims.