Catholic Center Sued Again for Abuse

Another woman charges a priest hurt her as a child

It’s the second similar case filed this year

A second woman filed a child sex abuse and cover up lawsuit against a Catholic religious group, one of its priests and its facility in southern New Jersey.

She alleges she was molested as a 12 year old by Fr. John J. Sheehan from 1978 through 1979 at the Marianist Retreat Center in Cape May when he was the director.

similar abuse lawsuit was filed in January against both Fr. Sheehan and another cleric, Brother Al Koch, for reportedly assaulting another girl at the same location in much the same way around 1974 when she was 14.

The new suit, identifies the alleged victim as Jane Doe SC, and says she attended Bible study classes at the Center with other local girls.

Several times, Fr. Sheehan quietly moved (her) from the main room to a separate room, where he touched (her) breasts and vagina, according to the Complaint.

During a winter storm, when power and electricity were out, Doe’s family stayed at the Center overnight, Fr. Sheehan reportedly molested her again.

 “I applaud these two brave, strong women who are working to protect others from harm and help themselves recover from trauma,” said David Clohessy (Twitter @davidgclohessy) of St. Louis Missouri, the former head of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Though our support groups over the past 30 years, I’ve talked with more than 1,000 victims of clergy sex crimes and followed hundreds of abuse cases. I firmly believe many others were exploited by Koch and Sheehan and are still suffering in shame, silence and self-blame. I hope they find the courage to seek help from independent sources, not church figures, and hope they call the police so Koch might be locked up.”  

“It’s hard for any community to learn that there were child molesters running a program specifically set up to help children,” said the woman’s attorney, Patrick Noaker of Minneapolis MN. “But since at least two credibly accused clerics were there, it’s likely that other girls who spent time at the Center were also sexually violated.”

Local Catholics should “call their sisters, daughters and moms who were at this facility or around Fr. Sheehan or Br. Koch, even briefly, and ask them if they were hurt too,” Noaker stressed. “Anyone who saw, suspected or suffered wrongdoing here may need and certainly deserves help.”

According to its website, the Marianist Family Retreat Center is operated in partnership with the St. Louis-based Marianist religious order (also known as the Society of Mary). The center, which has operated for 50 years, reportedly hosts hundreds of children and families every year.

Two Catholic institutions, the Baltimore archdiocese and the Marianists, have publicly declared Fr. John Sheehan to be ‘credibly accused’ of abuse, according to their websites. And the Vatican formally defrocked him in 1997, the Marianists admit.

At least 44 other Marianists have been “found to have sexually abused a minor.” At least eight of them worked at the same schools as Fr. Sheehan. (They are Fr. Thomas J. Doyle, Br. Robert Lindemann, Fr. Edward Sokol, Br. Ralph Mravintz, Br. Francis Meder, Br. Julius May, Fr. Berhard Horst and Br. Edward Dury.)
Fr. Sheehan was ordained in 1961. In the 1960s, he worked at St. James High School in Chester, Pennsylvania. Fr. Sheehan appears in the St. James High School in Chester Pennsylvania yearbook in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.
“In the 1969 yearbook, there is an unusual note by Fr. Sheehan’s photo,” Noaker said. “It says ‘Father puts the finishing touches on his latest article for Playboy.’ That’s at best inappropriate of course. And at worst, that’s troubling” (See below.)
Fr. Sheehan does not appear in the St. James High School yearbook after 1969, despite the Official Catholic Directories which show him still assigned there from 1970-1976.  The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s credibly accused list indicates that Fr. Sheehan was assigned to Cardinal Gibbons High School in Baltimore, Maryland from 1968 – 1974.
According to the Marianists’ ‘credibly accused’ list, Fr. Sheehan also worked at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York (Long Island), but no dates of those assignments are provided.

According to a newspaper account, Br. Al Koch, another Marianist who has been accused of sexual abuse who was assigned to the retreat center at the same time as Fr. John Sheehan, “appears to have been active at the center into 2020,” and Fr. Sheehan is believed to be deceased. Br. Koch is believed to be now living at a Marianist facility in Dayton, Ohio.

“I worry that wherever Br. Koch is now, kids may be at risk,” Noaker said. “If others step forward and report to law enforcement, it’s possible he could be charged, convicted and kept away from kids.”

The first accuser now lives in New York. The second lives in New Jersey.

The new case was filed Friday, June 4, 2021 in Cape May County Superior Court.

The public relations contact for the Marianists is info@marianist.com

image.png

Patrick Noaker is an attorney licensed to practice law in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and Missouri, with offices in Minneapolis and New York who has represented hundreds of survivors of sexual assault across the country.  Patrick is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and has won multiple jury verdicts and settlements exceeding a million dollars.