Assumption Church Galloway

A file photo of refurbished stained glass retrofitted into doors that lead into the sanctuary at Assumption Church in Galloway Township, Wednesday Feb. 11, 2009. The Galloway church in a list released by the Diocese of Camden that named 57 clergy members across South Jersey that had a history of sexually abusing minors.

VENTNOR — Halfway through the Sunday service at St. James Church, prayers paused momentarily.

Rows of attendees turned their attention to a prerecorded message broadcast on two small TVs addressing the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for decades, and that has now reached South Jersey.

The Diocese of Camden last Wednesday released the names of 56 priests and one deacon who had a history of sexually abusing minors. Of them, 47 were from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties. St. James Church had among the most reported abusers, with seven clergy members identified.

“These men are a disgrace. ... Their despicable acts have wounded their victims, our church and the priesthood,” Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan said in a nine-minute video that played inside churches across South Jersey.

Other clergy members named had ties to Blessed Sacrament in Margate, Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, St. Vincent de Paul in Mays Landing, St. Joseph High School in Hammonton and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Atlantic City. A majority of them are dead, and 12 have been removed from ministry. The status of two are unknown.

The bishop told parishioners the diocese published the list for transparency, but said he hopes the credible allegations do not lessen anyone’s religious faith.

“I pray your faith in God will remain strong, even if your faith in the Church doesn’t,” he said. “It’s up to me and my successors to regain your trust. ... It will take time.”

Settlements will be given to victims, Sullivan said, and he listed resources for families to effectively talk about the issue and spot signs of sexual abuse in the religious community.

Exiting the church, some parishioners viewed it as positive that the list was put forward.

Part-time Ventnor resident RoseAnne D’Armi, a retired Catholic school teacher, said she fears some are distancing themselves from the church as a result of the scandal. Over the past decade, weekly church attendance decreased by 6 percentage points, according to an April 2018 Gallup poll.

“It’s hard for me to believe such heinous crimes were being committed, but at the same time, I believe there were,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing they’re bringing it to the forefront. You can’t keep shoving the dirt underneath the rug.”

The last credible allegation was made in 1995, according to the list.

One accused priest, Glendon Robertson, was Holy Spirit’s principal from 1965 to 1973 and then the secretary of education for the diocese until 1980. Roberton’s successor at Holy Spirit, Brendan V. Sullivan, also appears on the list. Brendan Sullivan was removed from the ministry in 2010 after a man anonymously reported an incident of abuse to the diocese. The man alleged that when he was 14, Brendan Sullivan abused him in Atlantic County in 1981. Brendan Sullivan was with Assumption Parish in Atco, Camden County, at the time.

Both Brendan Sullivan and Glendon Robertson are deceased.

Catherine Navone, a Ventnor resident and member of St. James Church attended Mass there Sunday. She grew up attending Blessed Sacrament in Margate. Five priests at one point assigned to Blessed Sacrament were accused of sexual abuse. Three are deceased and two were removed from ministry.

She hopes recent revelations of sexual misconduct spur a conversation. Last year, New Jersey launched a special task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the state.

“The worst thing in the world ... is when communication is completely ignored,” Navone said. “People don’t talk about things because they have shame. ... That’s not the appropriate way.”

Contact: 609-272-7258 Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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