For Those Claiming Clergy Abuse, a Window Long Shut Is Now Open

New law extends New Jersey’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases

Sunday was a long time coming for Bruce Novozinsky.

Decades ago, the 58-year-old Monmouth County resident claims, a Catholic priest tried to rape him in a hotel room while he was on a church trip with other altar boys. But he’s been barred from seeking justice in court by New Jersey’s statute of limitations.

Now, armed with a new law that as of Dec. 1 opens a two-year window for those like Novozinsky who were thwarted in pursuing claims of past abuse by a trusted adult, his attorney says he will file lawsuits in the name of some 40 clients.

“For me, personally? It’s absolutely a day of vindication and validation,” Novozinsky said.

In his lawsuit, Novozinsky accuses the Diocese of Trenton and St. Mary of the Lake Church in Lakewood of covering up alleged abuse by the late Rev. Gerry Brown. His recollection of the incident is all too vivid.

“Within seconds, I turned and I elbowed him in the face,” he recalled. “He was bleeding from his nose, from the elbow. His underwear was down, just above his knees. He went into the bathroom — door wide open — and continued to masturbate.”

Novozinsky was 15. He claims church officials at the time called him a liar and covered up multiple cases involving Brown, whose name eventually appeared on a list of 188 priests credibly accused of molesting children across the state, released by New Jersey’s five Roman Catholic dioceses in February. By then, Brown was years dead, and the statute of limitations had long since run out.

No more patience

In May, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the Legislature extending the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. In a statement released at the time, he took note that the measure could inhibit religious and nonprofit organizations from providing services that many vulnerable residents rely on. “But I cannot deny victims the ability to seek redress in court for sexual abuse that often leaves trauma lasting a lifetime. I am confident that our judicial system is the right forum to assess these claims fairly and impartially,” he wrote.

Attorney Jay Silvio Mascolo says Novozinsky and his other clients have waited decades to tell their stories and have run out of patience.

“They want the church or the Boy Scouts, whatever group or entity is responsible for what happens, they want them to be held accountable,” Mascolo said, “both from a legal standpoint, but for everybody to know it.”

Mascolo says he has checked with other firms and expects to see hundreds of lawsuits filed. Complaints will seek damages, despite concerns that big payouts could push Catholic parishes into bankruptcy.

“You can’t give these men their lives back. You can’t give them what happened when they were 14, 15, 16 years old,” he said. “So, under the law, the only recourse is monetary damages. More broadly, though, I want the church to accept responsibility.”

The Diocese of Trenton had no comment. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Newark said it “… will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and bring closure to victims.”

The state’s dioceses opened a victims compensation program back in June — and as of last week had reportedly paid $4.7 million on more than 200 claims. The program is overseen by Kenneth R. Feinberg, who — with Camille S. Biros — is administering similar compensation programs for dioceses in New York and Pennsylvania.

Those who accept an award offered by the administrators must first agree in writing not to sue.

Other abuse investigations

Meanwhile, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is pursuing a separate investigation into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church. And thousands have called a hotline he established.

Novozinsky, who in 2012 wrote a book called “Purple Reign” about his experiences, says he wants access to diocesan personnel files that will allow attorneys to seek relevant records on accused priests. The church has refused to release the files, but that could change as a result of the lawsuits.

“The list of 188 names that was released by all five dioceses in New Jersey is an absolute incomplete list,” he said. “They do not take into account the priests that were transferred to other dioceses.”

But mostly, Novozinsky says, he wants the church to confess.

“I want my name back,” he said. “I want an apology from the Diocese of Trenton. I want a validation of the book. I want a validation of my claims. This affected my family.”