Monmouth County Priest Charged with Sexual Assault of Minor That Occurred 20 Years Ago

TRENTON, N.J. – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni today announced that a retired Roman Catholic priest has been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting an underage girl in the late 1990s.

This is the second priest to be charged in criminal cases filed by the New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force, which was formed by Attorney General Grewal in September 2018 to investigate allegations of clergy abuse. The arrest was made by members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office assigned to the task force.

Father Brendan Williams, 78, of Lawrence, N.J., was arrested today and charged with second-degree sexual assault—criminal sexual contact on a victim under the age of 13. Williams was pastor at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Howell, N.J., when the alleged criminal acts occurred between 1997 and 1999. He is alleged to have touched the victim’s intimate parts with his hand on at least three occasions during that time period, twice in Colts Neck, N.J., and once in Ocean County. Williams was processed on the charges by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Williams is now retired and lives in a retirement community for Catholic clergy in Lawrence Township. The investigation began with a call to the Clergy Abuse Task Force Hotline.

“Once again a call to our hotline has led to a thorough investigation by members of our Clergy Abuse Task Force and charges against a priest who allegedly assaulted a young girl many years ago,” said Attorney General Grewal. “No person is above the law and we want survivors to know that, despite the passage of time, justice may still be within reach. We will do everything in our power to hold their abusers accountable.”

Last month the Clergy Abuse Task Force secured a four-year prison sentence for another Catholic priest, Thomas Ganley, who sexually assaulted a teenage girl over whom he had supervisory authority in the early 1990s at Saint Cecelia Church in Iselin, N.J.

“Many victims of clergy abuse have been forced to suffer in silence for extended periods of time and this trauma has cast a shadow over their lives. We hope that bringing charges against predatory clergy members will bring some measure of peace to those who have been victimized. We will continue to work tirelessly to pursue all leads and allegations of clergy abuse to bring justice to its victims,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

“We urge all survivors, witnesses of sexual abuse, and others with information to call our hotline: 855-363-6548,”said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We have experienced prosecutors and detectives in every county who will diligently pursue these cases as members of our Task Force.”

“I commend the detectives and attorneys in the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office under Prosecutor Gramiccioni who conducted this investigation,” said former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, who leads the Clergy Abuse Task Force. “We are determined to seek justice for survivors, and where charges are time-barred, we will investigate to determine if the Church knew of the alleged conduct and failed to address it appropriately. Such institutional abuses will be the subject of a state grand jury presentment and report.”

The investigation of Williams is active and ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to call Sgt. Michael Magliozzo or Detective Thomas Manzo of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-431-7160. Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fichter is prosecuting the case.

As is the case with all criminal defendants, the charges against Williams are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

When Attorney General Grewal formed the Clergy Abuse Task Force in September 2018, he also established a Clergy Abuse Hotline – 855-363-6548 – which is staffed by trained professionals and operated on a 24/7 basis. More than 540 calls have been received through the hotline to date.

Attorney General Grewal formed the New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force in response to publication of a report by a Pennsylvania grand jury outlining allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests against more than 1,000 victims in that state, which were uncovered in a multi-year investigation led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 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, as well as any efforts to cover up such abuse. Attorney General Grewal appointed former Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor, to head the task force and oversee a team of detectives and prosecutors from all 21 New Jersey county prosecutors’ offices and the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ). Laurino reports directly to DCJ Director Veronica Allende. The Attorney General has authorized the task force to present evidence to a state grand jury, including through the use of subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, in addition to other investigative tools.

In addition to investigating allegations of sexual abuse, the task force is conducting a comprehensive review of existing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey and state law enforcement. These MOUs, entered in 2002, mandated that the dioceses establish policies and procedures to ensure that 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. The task force, as part of its mission, is determining whether the dioceses complied with the MOUs’ mandatory reporting requirements and whether any additional action is necessary.

Finally, the AG’s Clergy Abuse Task Force’s investigations are being done in a manner consistent with best-in-class guidelines governing the investigation of sexual assault cases. In November 2018, Attorney General Grewal issued AG Directive 2018-5, which created new requirements and enhanced oversight for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions. In addition, Attorney General Grewal issued the Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault, Third Edition, which established 14 protocols that prioritize the needs and concerns of victims. These steps marked the culmination of a multi-year process to improve the handling of sexual assault cases—a collaborative effort that involved prosecutors, healthcare professionals, services providers, and victim advocates.