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Silent no more: Priest abuse victim gets confidentiality clause tossed

Posted at 9:04 PM, Jun 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-11 06:18:20-04

MORRIS COUNTY, N.J. (PIX11) — When 44-year-old Bill Wolfe finally won the right to reveal his story of priest sex abuse at the private Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey, his sister noticed something she hadn’t seen in thirty years.

“His shoulders went back! His whole demeanor absolutely changed,” Lisa Gerwig told PIX 11 Investigates. “The smile is back.”

Wolfe was 14-years-old and a freshman in 1984 when he sought help from Delbarton’s guidance counselor, Father Timothy Brennan.

He felt that he wasn’t fitting in with other classmates.

“He gained my trust,” Wolfe recalled recently to PIX11 Investigates. “It’s a process, a grooming process,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe told PIX11 Father Brennan started talking about sex and, over a period of months, introduced the teen to pornography.

When the porn turned hard core, “The natural, biological reaction would happen,” Wolfe said. “I did masturbate for him. It occurred to me that something was going on under his robe, as well.”

This one incident prompted the 14-year-old student to bolt out the office door and never return to seek Father Brennan’s guidance. But the memories have haunted Bill Wolfe for thirty years.

This past Thursday, Wolfe finally won the right to talk about his trauma, when the Order of St. Benedict, which runs Delbarton School, dropped its objection to Wolfe revealing his name.

The prestigious, all-boy Catholic Academy now costs more than $30,000 a year and even educated Governor Chris Christie’s son.

Wolfe and the monks at St. Mary’s Abbey had reached a financial settlement in 1988, reportedly a seven figure deal, but the confidentiality agreement required Wolfe to keep the pay-out and his name secret.

When the priest sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston, New York and New Jersey in 2002 — and all around the United States — Wolfe wanted to be released from the constraints of the confidentiality clause. It took another dozen years to make that happen.

“My ability to trust has been screwed up my whole life,” Wolfe said. “I will either trust people too much that I shouldn’t have trusted…or don’t trust people enough.”

Wolfe wanted a chance to fully heal, and the silence was preventing him from doing that.

“You can’t keep pushing it down, because it eats away inside of you and makes ugly behaviors come out,” Wolfe said.

Before the settlement, Wolfe’s secret initially came spilling out when he was 16, and living with his family in their new home in Colorado. His girlfriend picked up on cues that he was an abuse victim.

Therapy followed and then a call to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office in 1986. Father Brennan pleaded guilty to an accusation and received one year probation. The civil settlement followed in 1988.

When Wolfe tried to convince St. Mary’s Abbey to toss the confidentiality agreement in 2002, the Order refused and threatened to sue, writing in a letter “our potential damages are very real here.”

Wolfe gave up for ten years and then hired a new attorney.

Wolfe then filed suit in 2012 to force St. Mary’s Abbey to free him from the confidentiality part of the deal. He testified at the court trial last week and that’s when lawyers for the Abbey surprised him, by agreeing to let him reveal his real name and talk about his experiences.

The only part of the confidentiality deal he couldn’t break was not revealing the amount of the financial settlement from the Order.

“I do believe the Abbey deserves credit for what they did,” Wolfe told PIX 11. “They did allow me to speak.”

St. Mary’s Abbey released a statement to PIX11 Investigates, which said in part, “From the very beginning of this case, confidentiality as to the amount of the settlement was the primary concern of St. Mary’s Abbey. As for John Doe, we hope that he finds some solace…and will continue his healing process in the future.”

Wolfe is now married, since 2000, to his wife, Danielle and the couple lives in California. “I love her very much; she’s my best friend,” Wolfe told PIX11, before catching a flight back to California.

“All I really want to do is go home and give her a hug.”