Immaculate Conception

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

A Montclair woman has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark, Immaculate Conception Church and St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, alleging sexual assault by a priest and two nuns at Immaculate Conception when she was a young girl.

Mary Joy Morgan filed the lawsuit in Essex County Superior Court on Nov. 24, alleging that the Rev. William Dowd, then the pastor at Immaculate Conception, and Sisters Maria Michael and Alice Bernadette subjected her to sexual abuse and rape over a period of seven years, starting when she was 8 years old. 




The documents allege that Morgan was sexually abused by Sister Maria Michael starting in 1969. The abuse happened more than once a week, the documents said, when Morgan would be summoned to her office at Immaculate Conception Elementary School. 

In 1971, the two nuns took Morgan, then 10 years old, to the parish hall at Immaculate Conception. There, the documents allege, the two held Morgan down as Dowd raped her.

The abuse continued at various points until Morgan transferred out of the parish schools at the age of 15. 

Joseph Hayden, Dowd’s attorney, said: “Father William Dowd categorically and unequivocally denies these allegations, which are almost 50 years old. Quite simply, it never happened, and he will fight these allegations in court.”

The Archdiocese of Newark is named as a defendant, along with Dowd, the estates of the two nuns, both deceased; Immaculate Conception Parish; St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish; Immaculate Conception Elementary School and Immaculate Conception High School. 

Sister Maria Michael served as a principal and as a teacher at Immaculate Conception Elementary School, which has since closed, and at Immaculate Conception High School. Sister Alice Bernadette served as a teacher at the schools. 

The complaint alleges that Morgan was abused at least 50 times. 

Morgan decided to come forward about her abuse after hearing stories from other survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit seeks damages for negligence, negligent supervision, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty against the archdiocese and the other named parties. The suit alleges that the archdiocese and other authorities were negligent in their hiring of Dowd and both nuns, and in allowing them to supervise or otherwise be around children. 

Dowd was removed from his role as pastor at a parish in Ho-Ho-Kus in 2002 after allegations of abuse were brought against him, but a church trial found him not guilty in 2005, and after the Vatican affirmed the decision, he was allowed to return to ministry in 2007. 

In December 2019, Dowd was the subject of a lawsuit filed by a man who alleged that Dowd had abused him, from the age of 12 to 17, from 1967 to 1972. The man and his family were also members of Immaculate Conception Church. 

Dowd is now listed as retired by the archdiocese.

In February 2019, the archdiocese released a list of clergy deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. His name is not on the list.

John Baldante, Morgan’s attorney, said that Morgan’s case and numerous others were indicative of systematic failures in the archdiocese and many others. “The church has been complicit in this every step of the way,” he said, for not acknowledging that certain clergy and staff members posed a threat to children, and acting accordingly. “The church needed to be more responsible for their employees.”

Baldante added that it was a great act of courage for Morgan and other survivors of sexual abuse to come forward with their stories. 

Maria Margiotta, the Newark Archdiocese’s director of communications, said in a statement on Dec. 3: “It would be inappropriate for the Archdiocese of Newark to discuss or comment on matters in litigation, or under investigation, or concluded settlements with victims.”

“However, it is important to note that the Archdiocese of Newark remains fully committed to our longstanding programs to protect the faithful, and will continue to work with victims, their legal representatives and law enforcement authorities in an ongoing effort to resolve allegations and bring healing and closure to victims.”