My Story: Attorney Greg Gianforcaro
Here’s my story:
As a 10-year-old boy, shortly after a new priest arrived at my parish at St. Joseph’s Church in Mendham, my brother and I became altar boys. The Sunday prior to his arrival, he had the Parish place an ad in the church bulletin that “altar boy practices would be held the first Saturday after his arrival in the Parish.” That meant that even before giving his first mass, he had new altar boys trained for serving in that (his new) Parish.
On that Saturday, my mother dropped my brother and I off for altar boy practice. Along with my brother and me…were 20 or so other young boys. That priest was running that altar boy practice was Fr. James T. Hanley. He left the Parish 10 years later while I was attending college.
I grew up and loved the church. I was honored to be Catholic. I went to church the day before I left for my first day of college. I went to church to pray on the day before my first day of law school. My parents had a service at our church the day that I was sworn in as an attorney. On October 10, 1992, I even chose to propose to my wife in the parish church where I had been raised as a child (before I moved to Mendham).
In December 1995, my childhood best friend’s younger brother called me. All the message said was “Hanley.” Sadly, I suspected what he was calling about. He asked me if I could represent him. He said his other lawyer had dumped him. When I brought up the subject to my wife who was my paralegal at the time…she responded that she did not want me to take the case because “she did not want to go to Hell for suing the Catholic Church.”
I responded that I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people and “if I could not help my one of my childhood friends…then who could I help?” She ultimately, but reluctantly, agreed. It took years, but we finally settled in 1999.
In 2002, after the Boston Church scandal surfaced, many of my childhood friends, who were Hanley victims, were getting together. One of them suggested that a lawyer attend the meeting. The Hanley survivor organizing the meeting (Mark Serrano, a man who was two years behind me in school, who I had grown up with, and attended altar boy trips with) initially objected. When it was then suggested to him that I be the lawyer who attend the meeting, Mark agreed and said it was okay because of our childhood connection.
Attending that meeting was very heart-wrenching for me. On the one hand, these were my childhood friends whom I had grown up with. On the other hand, these men were getting together because they had all been sexually abused as children by our parish priest.
As the meeting progressed, one by one, each of the men began to approach me and ask me what I thought. Because I had previously litigated and settled one church-related childhood sexual abuse case, I figured that I could help these men with their cases. I anticipated that I would be able to get perhaps 10 or so cases involving my childhood friends together and settle them without much difficulty. I presumed that after litigating these 10 or so cases, I would then return to the kind of law I had been practicing for years before (real-estate closings, Municipal Court defense work, worker’s compensation cases, auto-accident cases, slip and fall cases, etc.).
That was more than 20 years ago. Little did I know that representing sexual abuse survivors would take over my practice as well as my life. To date I have represented hundreds of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and have a current case list of approximately 650 or so more.
As I said…I never ever thought that when I became a lawyer that those I would be helping would be “survivors of childhood sexual abuse” but then again…I never ever thought that the priest that I met when I was 10 years old would sexually abuse dozens of my childhood friends, including most of the boys who had the misfortune of becoming altar boys and attending that same altar boy practice that my brother and I attended when I was 10 years old.
As a lawyer and advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I am proud to say that I was instrumental in lobbying the New Jersey legislatures in helping to pass 2 key laws. The first law was to eliminate Charitable Immunity protections that the Catholic Church had been taking advantage of for decades. That is a law that was passed by the New Jersey legislature in 1958 as a means of protecting New Jersey’s Catholic Churches from claims of negligence for injuries to parishioners which occurred because of the Churches negligence which occurred on their property. In the decades that followed, that law morphed into a means of defending New Jersey’s Catholic (as well as private schools and other religious institutions) from having to be legally responsible for the sexual abuse of children by their priests and other personnel of children who had been placed within their care. I am proud to say that in 2006 that law was eliminated retroactively for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
The second law that I assisted in getting passed was the elimination of New Jersey’s statute of limitations which, because of its passage in May of 2019, permits victims of both childhood and adult sexual assault to pursue their claims in the courts without having to explain why it took them years and often, decades, to muster up the courage to bring their claims. While other states have similar laws on the books, I am proud to say that New Jersey’s law is the best and most victim-friendly law in the country.
As for me, and my luck in never having been sexually abused, I do not know how I or my brothers were able to escape our priest’s abuse…but somehow, we did. Sadly…what is even more disturbing to me from having been representing survivors over these past 25 years, is the hypocrisy of the Church’s leaders and their representatives. While on the surface the Church’s leaders claim to be praying for the survivors of sexual abuse, from having met with legislatures, and having litigated hundreds of these cases against the Church, I have witnessed first-hand that the Church and their lawyers do whatever is necessary to defeat claims of survivors of sexual abuse.
It is heart-wrenching to me that the Catholic Church that I once loved and respected so much both as a child and as an adult, is not what I believed it to be. What I have read in the Church’s documents obtained during litigation and what I have heard from the depositions of Church leaders, sickens me. While I reluctantly remain a catholic and try to attend Sunday mass as a means of allowing my children to grow up with a sense of respect for God and hopefully not lose the faith that drives me to do what I do…I am beginning to acknowledge that parts of my faith have waned over these past 20+ years. Regardless of that fact however…I do take solace in the thought that if today… Jesus was to rise from the dead and walk this Earth and see what I do…whose side would he be on?
That’s my story.