The Diocese of Camden has offered a settlement to the daughter of a man who claimed he was sexually abused by the Rev. Richard Gerbino, who in 1961 was the first pastor assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vineland.
The settlement, which was offered in April, is for $20,000 between the diocese and Annette Nestler, 54, of the Villas section of Lower Township. Nestler’s father, Mike Kissell, said he was repeatedly sexually abused by Gerbino in the 1960s and died by suicide Dec. 31, 1970.
Mike Walsh, a spokesman for the diocese, confirmed the proposed deal and said settlements in general are offered by the diocese after they are vetted for credibility.
CAPE MAY — People across the pews at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church fidgeted uncomfortably …
Nestler has not yet accepted the settlement. She has six months to sign it.
Representatives from Divine Mercy Parish, which combined the St. Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Heart of Mary parishes in Vineland in 2009, declined to comment on the allegations.
No buildings in the parish are named after Gerbino.
According to Nestler, her father went to Gerbino for private counseling at the parish and was sexually abused there.
“As Catholics, we were always told to go talk to the priest when there was a problem,” Nestler said. “I didn’t wish for this, didn’t ask for this. … I was born into it.”
Nestler was 7 at the time of her father’s suicide. Her mother, Astrid Kissell, died 14 months later in a car accident.
This was the second abuse allegation made against Gerbino. The other allegation was of verbal abuse, Walsh said. That incident did not lead to a settlement; however, the diocese did pay for counseling for the alleged victim for two years, Walsh said.
“What happened in Pennsylvania with the grand jury needs to happen in New Jersey,” Nestler said, referring to the recent report that found widespread sexual abuse of children within six dioceses of the Catholic Church in that state. “This is happening everywhere around the country.”
Gerbino arrived at St. Francis of Assisi as its first pastor in 1961 and held Sunday Masses in the auditorium at Landis Junior High School and holy day Masses in the American Legion Hall, according to the parish’s official history.
In 1962, the parish held groundbreaking ceremonies on a parcel of land on West Chestnut Avenue near Delsea Drive for a new school, which included an auditorium for Sunday Mass, parish offices and living space for the priests.
The first permanent assistant with Gerbino at St. Francis was the Rev. John Connor, who also has been accused of sexual abuse of children and was named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Ex-Vineland priest in Pa. abuse report
Connor, 84, was removed from ministry in 2002 and now lives in a facility in Missouri for priests with abusive backgrounds. He is restricted to a life a prayer and penance, according to the diocese.
Gerbino resigned from the parish in November 1980 amid allegations he had a drinking problem and was ordered by then-Camden Diocese Bishop George H. Guilfoyle to undergo months of treatment in Minnesota and Boston. Gerbino wrote a 15-page letter distributed to parishioners claiming an “unnamed informant” at the parish purposely plotted his downfall by telling the bishop his performance as a pastor suffered because of a problem with alcohol, according to a Feb. 5, 1982, article by the Vineland Daily Journal.
Gerbino was then briefly assigned to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Cape May after rehab.
He was removed from ministry in 1985 because of mental-health reasons, according to Walsh.
Gerbino died in 2007 at age 82 at Our Lady’s Residence in Pleasantville, a nursing home operated by the diocese.
His funeral was held at the Nativity Church on Delsea Drive in Franklinville, Gloucester County.
It is still officially unknown why the funeral was not held at St. Francis.