Black Collar CrimesClergy Crimes

July –
October 1999

M – W

  • New Jersey
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    NEWARK — The Archdiocese of Newark concealed records that may have shown that two boys were sexually abused by a priest 3 decades ago, lawyers for the alleged victims charged.

    Thomas and Michael J. Corsie, who are brothers, allege in a lawsuit that a former parish priest, Michael G. Campanalonga, molested and sexually assaulted them between 1966 and 1972.

    The Corsies, who said they recovered memories of the abuse during therapy sessions in 1992, also say that the archdiocese and Msg. James Johnson failed to protect them from a priest they knew was a pedophile.

    But the archdiocese and Johnson have asked Superior Court Judge Carol Ferentz to drop them from the five-year-old lawsuit. In court, a lawyer for the archdiocese neither acknowledged nor denied that any abuse had occurred, but he did say there was no cover-up. He said some of the priest's personnel records were accidentally lost during a move to a new office.

    And, the archdiocese argued the church is immune from liability under the state Charitable Immunity Act, which covers religious institutions. Under that law, the church cannot be held responsible for Campanalonga's actions if it was merely negligent.

    Lawyers for the Corsies contend that the behavior of the archdiocese and Johnson went beyond negligence. Indeed, the lawyers said the church "willfully and wantonly" hid records to cover up its knowledge of the abuse.

    Attorney Michael Geron said he requested personnel records on Campanalonga between 1962, when the priest began work, and 1995, when he was ultimately defrocked by the church. But the church mysteriously lost all records relating to the priest during the period of the abuse, Geron said.

    "There is no record that this priest lived or breathed from 1966 to 1972," said Geron, who represents Thomas Corsie. "It was the pattern and practice of the church not to create a paper trail."

    But an attorney for the archdiocese and Johnson denied that there was any cover-up. He said the archdiocese lost the records in moving its headquarters, and that the Corsies' attorney cannot prove that Johnson knew of the abuse.

    Campanalonga, who served as an assistant at the Northvale parish from 1965 to 1973, was permanently suspended by the archdiocese in 1993 after refusing to undergo a psychiatric evaluation following allegations of sexual misconduct.

    He has moved to Florida and never responded to the lawsuit, prompting the judge to enter a default judgment against him in 1995. The ruling makes Campanalonga legally liable for damages, even though the case never went to trial.

    Geron, citing a rumor he heard from a former parishioner, also told the judge that the Northvale Police Department knew of alleged abuse by Campanalonga. When Geron tried to obtain police records, he said he was told that all the records from the period were seized by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office for an investigation of corruption in the department.

    Ferentz, who scolded Geron repeatedly for his behavior and his failure to comply with her orders in the case, cast doubt on the rumor. "Not only are you accusing the church of a cover-up, but you go so far as to say there was a cover-up in the Police Department," the judge said. "I have a pedophile priest, a corrupt church that covered up, and a corrupt Police Department that covered up."

    She also grew impatient with attorney James S. Lynch, who represents Michael Corsie, after he asserted that two other victims have described sexual abuse. The judge repeatedly questioned how missing records offer proof that Johnson or anyone else in the archdiocese knew of the abuse. If the abuse actually happened, she said, "it's absolutely egregious, atrocious, and just unspeakable beyond words." But she said the issue is whether the archdiocese had knowledge of the abuse.

    Ferentz has privately reviewed hundreds of records from the archdiocese, and has turned over most of them to the Corsies' attorneys. The archdiocese mounted a stiff legal challenge to turning over most of the records and the issue reached the state Supreme Court.

    The judge declined to decide whether to dismiss Johnson and the archdiocese from the suit. Geron said that a trial is set for Dec. 6 to determine at least what damages could be demanded from Campanalonga.
    Bergen Record, 10/23/99

    PERTH AMBOY — A Staten Island priest has been arrested for allegedly traveling to Perth Amboy to have sex with a 15-year-old boy.

    The boy was actually an undercover FBI agent who met with Fr. Morgan Kuhl on the Internet. Authorities found 4 unopened condom packages on the console of Kuhl's car. They also found a printout of an email confirming a meeting place with the undercover agent. Investigators say the priest admitted he was in Perth Amboy "to possibly have sex" with the 15-year-old boy. Kuhl is charged with one count of interstate travel to have sex with a minor, which carries up to 10 years in prison.
    Yahoo! News 10/7/99

    MORRISTOWN — Fr. Dominic A. Scolamiero, 55, former principal of Morris Catholic High School in Denville, has pleaded guilty to charges of stealing tuition payments. Scolamiero had been charged with stealing tuition as well as funds for retired priests and nuns, scholarship money, and $500 in coins from school vending machines. He pleaded guilty to one count of theft by deception.

    As a result of a plea bargain, the second-degree offense will be treated as a third-degree offense, with Scolamiero facing at most a year in jail and to pay restitution of $150,000. Scolamiero also faces up to $7,500 in fines. Sentencing was scheduled for Nov. 14.

    Earlier this year, Scolamiero repaid, with interest, $50,000 he had diverted from a scholarship account. Scolamiero was accused of illegally putting school funds into a fictitious account he called "Our Lady of Lourdes." An 8-count indictment against the priest announced in March, resulted from an investigation by the Paterson Diocese in 1993 after an audit of the high school turned up financial irregularities.
    Bergen Record 9/3/99

    BERGEN — A state judge sentenced a New York City man to 180 days in the county jail for lewdness in front of children, saying that the Salvation Army captain brought disrepute to the organization and that he still does not fully appreciate the consequences of his actions. Philip Bentley, 33, was convicted by a jury in March on counts of child endangerment, criminal sexual contact, and lewdness for masturbating in front of 3 boys who were riding their bikes in the woods.

    Bentley, who also was a minister for the Salvation Army, will be required to continue counseling and will remain on probation for 5 years. He also will be required to register as a sex offender and must stay away from children.

    On June 20, the 3 boys — then aged 13, 14, and 18 — were riding their bikes in the woods in a park when they noticed Bentley watching them. Bentley then removed his clothes and started masturbating, said the county assistant prosecutor. He said Bentley was in the area that day because he had been driving children from the New York Salvation Army group to a nearby camp.

    The judge could have given Bentley probation but said he was concerned because Bentley admitted "acting out," in similar ways twice after he was arrested.
    Bergen Record, 8/14/99



    ALBUQUERQUE — A former Church of Christ minister has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for torching or vandalizing 4 Mormon churches, including one where his ex-lover was the organist.

    Prosecutors said Walter Grassie, 50, went on his rampage because he was upset when the organist, Sharlene Jensen, broke off their 8-year affair in 1998, saying her Mormon faith bars her from getting a divorce.

    Grassie was also ordered to pay nearly $3 million in restitution to the Mormon Church. Grassie, who spent 25 years as a Church of Christ preacher, was separated from his wife and working on his father's farm at the time of the vandalism.

    He was convicted of burning a church in Roswell and splashing paint, spraying graffiti or destroying furniture at 3 other churches. Grassie also was convicted of burning a car belonging to Jensen's son.

    Prosecutors said Grassie's actions were part of a campaign of violence against the Jensen family and Mormons in general. Grassie's lawyers said his brain was "poisoned by love" and asked that he be sent to a prison hospital for treatment. The judge granted the request.
    AP 7/21/99



    NEW YORK CITY — An upstate New York priest was arraigned on multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. He allegedly photographed a 14-year-old girl in the nude and was caught when he submitted the film to be developed. Fr. James Kent Stansell, 36, was arraigned and jailed in lieu of $10,000 cash bail.

    Stansell was accused of photographing the victim nude and in sexually suggestive positions. He was charged with 10 counts each of sexual abuse of children for photographing or videotaping, possession of child pornography and corruption of minors.
    ? 8/30/99

    BUFFALO — An assistant pastor from a Lewiston church was arrested for public lewdness. But Fr. Benedict P. Barszcz, 35, has not yet been reassigned though the diocesan chancery is examining the situation. Barszcz is accused of masturbating in front of two girls, ages 14 and 15, while sitting in a car on at about 5:20 p.m., according to police reports.

    After the man who exposed himself drove away, the girls and their families reported it. Police later pulled Barszcz over and took him back to one of the girls' homes, where the two girls identified him as the man who had exposed himself, family members said.

    He was then charged with misdemeanor crime. While being booked in police headquarters, he gave his occupation as priest.
    Evening News 7/27/99



    AKRON — The family of 15-year-old murder victim Cassandra Blondheim has filed a wrongful death suit against evangelist Ernest Angley and his various ministries. The suit says that the man accused of the murder, Shane Partin, was retained as a volunteer at the Cathedral Buffet despite repeated warnings about his behavior.

    Partin has been charged in the Jan. stabbing death of Cassandra at the Cuyahoga Falls restaurant, which is own be Angley's ministries. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Cassandra also was a volunteer there, and the suit alleges that she complained repeatedly to Angley and other ministers that she had been harassed and stalked by Partin.
    Plain Dealer 7/30/99



    PROVIDENCE — A Superior Court judge denied a request for a new trial and set a Dec. 2 sentencing date for Msg. Louis Ward Dunn, 78. Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr convicted Dunn, a former pastor who is free on bail, in 1997 on a charge of first-degree sexual assault.

    Two months later, Fortunato reversed his decision and ordered a new trial after receiving scores of letters of support for Dunn. That reversal was overturned by the state Supreme Court in March. Noting the high court's ruling, Fortunato said he could not grant Dunn's request for a new trial. Dunn, who served as pastor at St. Thomas in Providence, was convicted of assaulting a 21-year-old woman in her Providence apartment in 1982.
    Journal, 10/25



    NASHVILLE — A former priest who confessed to molesting at least 25 altar boys and students while working in Tenn. cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations on the crimes has expired there. The assaults by Franklin Richards, 52, occurred 15 years or more ago and the statute limits prosecution to 8 years in Tenn.

    "I knew what I was doing was wrong," Richards, former principal of a high school, told detectives. "It was a constant struggle — just like an alcoholic who knows that he can't drink but he does."

    Richards left the priesthood in 1989 and now works with the Palm Beach environmental health dept. in Flor. He underwent treatment for pedophilia for 3-4 years in the 80s and now claims he no longer has the desire to have sex with boys.
    NCR 8/13/99



    JOHNSON CITY — A monk was found guilty of indecency with a child for his relationship with a boy at a monastery in east Texas.

    Jonathan I. Hitt, 38, known as Fr. Jeremiah, was convicted on 8 counts stemming from incidents at the Christ of the Hills Monastery in the summer of 1997. The monastery is near Blanco. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

    The 14-year-old victim, who was a novice monk studying at the monastery, testified during the weeklong trial that he had several sexual encounters with Hitt. Despite feeling awkward about the episodes, the youth testified he didn't object on the advice of Sam A. Greene Jr., the spiritual leader of the religious enclave. Greene, 54, known as Fr. Benedict, also was charged with indecency with a child. He hasn't yet gone to trial.

    The boy's 47-year-old mother testified he had struggled in public school and that she had hoped the monks would provide individualized lessons and serve as father figures for him. The attorney for the defendant claimed during the trial that she was a "scorned woman" whose advances Hitt had rebuffed.

    The Russian Orthodox Church recently broke ties with the monastery because of its refusal to let church officials inspect records and the premises. Christ of the Hills opened near Blanco in 1980 and is best known for its icon of the Virgin Mary that the monks claim weeps tears of myrrh.
    AP 10/27/99



    WALDORF — After an emotional 6-hour court hearing, a judge sentenced a former Waldorf minister to 18 months in jail for repeatedly sexually abusing his 12-year-old stepdaughter throughout the spring of 1992.

    John Joseph Damba, 42, one of the co-founders of the Gathering Place church here, was sentenced to 10 concurrent years, all but 18 months of which was suspended, for the abuse, which took place over several months in 1992 at the family's home. The victim, who is now 20, came forward to report Damba to the police this year after the emotional effects of the abuse resurfaced during premarital counseling.

    In the lengthy sentencing hearing, Judge Steven G. Chappelle heard testimony from the victim, whom he called "brave," and from a string of Damba's supporters and church members who described Damba's deep anguish over the repeated incidents of sexual fondling.

    Indicted in May on 8 counts of child abuse and third-degree sexual offense, Damba pleaded guilty to reduced charges of 2 counts of child abuse in Sept.

    Chappelle chastised Damba at the end of the hearing, saying that any man who went into a 12-year-old girl's bedroom to touch her sexually was committing a "cruel and evil act." Damba told his stepdaughter that he was ashamed of what he had done.

    The young woman read from a prepared text with her head bowed, frequently overcome by emotion. She said that while she had initially forgiven her stepfather for the abuse, years of hurt and confusion had followed. "Nothing healed the pain," she said. "I still felt alone." She said that finally confronting the abuse, going through counseling and notifying the police has been a freeing experience. "I feel like I am myself again," she said.

    His wife, Darlene Damba, described a "broken, weeping" Damba who begged for his wife's and stepdaughter's forgiveness shortly after the girl told her mother of the abuse in June 1992. The mother said they tried family counseling and used Christian healing books. However, the victim said she had not gone to counseling at the time.

    The Gathering Place, a nonaffiliated Christian church established in 1996, has been shaken by the allegations against Damba, who was asked to step down from his position as "worship minister" shortly after the allegations surfaced this spring. The 100-member congregation has been deeply divided — with members supporting either the Dambas or the victim, who no longer attends church there.

    "Mr. Damba has manipulated his religious community into shunning her," Collins said during the hearing.

    Church Pastor Paul Goodwin disagreed. "We're really praying for the families, that there will be healing and restoration," Goodwin said. "There are no winners in a situation like this. It saddens the whole church community."
    Washington Post, 11/7/99



    NEILLSVILLE — A priest confessed to stealing religious objects from several churches then returning them after apparently becoming stricken with guilt.

    Fr. Glen Gardner, 38, and an accomplice, church organist Kurt Schione, 41, were charged with burglary, theft and obstructing police. Schione pleaded not guilty and was released on $1000 bail. Gardner made a plea agreement that will allow half of his 180-day sentence to be suspended if he undergoes psychological assessment, makes restitution, and writes an apology to the churches.

    Police said Gardner gained access to 3 churches and aided by Schione, filled a van with items that included a $9,000 monstrance, a ciborium, two candelabra, altar candlesticks, candles, a missal stand, an antique incense burner and antique linens. The pair later became overwhelmed with guilt and left many of the items in boxes outside a Milwaukee church's garage.

    Gardner belongs to the Institute of Christ the King - Sovereign Priest, an order specializing in the Latin Mass, headquartered in Milan, Italy, but not a priest of the La Crosse Diocese where he was ministering with permission. His superior said he will face discipline and probably be reassigned overseas.
    NCR 9/17/99; Reuters 8/23; La Crosse Tribune 8/21

    LA CROSSE — The former pastor of a Chicago church was facing charges of sexually assaulting two teenage girls in a La Crosse, Wis., Bible class nearly 20 years ago. Richard D. Ahlberg, 47, who now lives in Minn., served as the youth pastor for the Bethany Evangelical Free Church near La Crosse from 1979 to 1982, when the criminal complaint alleged he committed numerous sex acts with the girls.

    The District Atty. said one of the girls made the allegations to church officials in the mid-1980s, but law enforcement authorities weren't notified until last year. One of the alleged victims finally stepped forward after hearing that Ahlberg wanted to return to the La Crosse church as pastor.

    Ahlberg was free on bond.
    Chicago Tribune 7/4/99



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