New NJ Clergy Abuse Task Force Yields First Guilty Plea

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The New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force created under Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Monday its first conviction of a Roman Catholic priest. The charges were of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in the early 1990s.

The defendant, the Rev. Thomas P. Ganley, 63, of Phillipsburg, pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault before Superior Court Judge Diane Pincus in Middlesex County, according to a release. Ganley admitted that he engaged in sexual acts with the victim when she was 16 or 17 years old, when he had supervisory authority over her as a priest in charge of the youth ministry program at St. Cecelia Church in Woodbridge.

Under a plea agreement, Grewal's office said, the state will recommend that Ganley be sentenced to four years in prison, required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and prohibited from having any contact with the victim or any unsupervised contact with children under age 18.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 2.

Ganley was investigated and prosecuted by members of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office assigned to the state Clergy Abuse Task Force. Assistant Prosecutor Allysa Gambarella prosecuted Ganley and took the guilty plea, the release noted.

Grewal said Ganley was arrested Jan. 16, 2019, two days after the victim called the Clergy Abuse Task Force Hotline to report the sexual abuse. At the time of his arrest, Ganley was assigned to Saint Philip & Saint James Church in Phillipsburg, according to the release.

“Our message today is that we will move swiftly and decisively to secure justice for survivors,” Grewal said in a statement. “This case was not time-barred even though it is 25 years old, and where a prosecution is no longer viable, we will work equally hard to determine if the Church was aware of the abuse but failed to take action or prevent it from recurring, which will be the subject of a state grand jury presentment and report.

“We are determined to expose past wrongs and seek justice for survivors in whatever form is possible,” Grewal added.

Ganley's counsel, Richard Blache and Lindsay Gargano, assistants in the Middlesex County office of the Public Defender's Office, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Clergy sexual abuse was front and center at last month’s Assembly and Senate judiciary committee hearings in Trenton as a bill was being reviewed that would extend the civil statute of limitations on certain sexual offenses from two years to seven years for adult victims of sexual assault and make other changes. That legislation, S-477/A-3648, was overwhelmingly passed by both houses—with the Assembly giving final legislative approval March 25. It is currently awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature to become law.

State Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende has urged all clergy sexual assault survivors, witnesses to sexual abuse and others with information to call the Clergy Abuse Hotline at 855-363-6548, which is staffed by trained professionals and operated on a 24/7 basis.

“We hope that this first guilty plea secured by the Task Force will encourage other victims who have suffered in silence for years or decades to come forward,” said former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, who leads the Clergy Abuse Task Force. “Every caller who contacts our hotline can be assured that their case will be taken seriously, and that we will make every effort to hold their abuser accountable.”

Grewal formed the task force in September 2018 in response to a published report by a Pennsylvania grand jury outlining allegations of sexual abuse of more than 1,000 victims in that state by Roman Catholic priests. The New Jersey task force was formed to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey and any efforts to cover up such abuse.

The task force is also conducting a comprehensive review of existing "memoranda of understanding" between the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey and state law enforcement. These memos, entered in 2002, mandated that the dioceses establish policies and procedures to ensure their leaders and employees report information to prosecutors about potential cases of sexual abuse within their churches and cooperate in any resulting law enforcement investigations.

Also, in November 2018, Grewal issued AG Directive 2018-5, which created new requirements and enhanced oversight for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

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