Father Augustine “Gus” Giella
Archdiocese of Newark
Assigned in Diocese of Harrisburg: 1980-1989
Named in civil lawsuits: 1992, 2001
Assigned as follows:
- St. Catherine, Glen Rock, NJ
- Church of the Epiphany, Cliffside Park, NJ
- Our Lady Of Sorrows, Jersey City, NJ
- Holy Trinity, Hackensack, NJ
- St. Joseph’s Church, Hanover, PA
- St. John the Evangelist, Enhaut, PA
Giella was also assigned to a leadership role at Bishop McDevitt High School.
SUMMARY OF SEXUAL ABUSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST FATHER AUGUSTINE “GUS” GIELLA
In February 2019, the Archdiocese of Newark released a list of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children. It included Fr. Augustine “Gus” Giella, who it said was the subject of “multiple” allegations of abuse. No details about the allegations, such as the age/gender of the victims or Fr. Giella’s assignments at the time of the abuse were disclosed.
However, the matter of Fr. Giella was investigated in depth in the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. According to media reports, after 29 years of ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, Fr. Giella suddenly sought permission to minister in the Diocese of Harrisburg. In December 1979, the Archbishop of Newark attested to Fr. Giella’s good standing in Newark in support of Fr.Giella’s request to minister in Harrisburg. During his interview he told Harriburg’s Auxiliary Bishop that he was not likely to be named pastor of any parishes in Newark because of the competition, so Harrisburg offered a better opportunity for the nearly 60-year-old priest.
While assigned St. John the Evangelist, Fr. Giella became close with a large family from the parish. There were eight girls in the family. He began sexually abusing five of the eight girls almost immediately, and eventually abused other members of the family. According to the 2018 grand jury report, Fr. Giella’s “conduct included a wide array of crimes cognizable as misdemeanors or felonies under Pennsylvania law.”
Several of the sisters testified before the Pennsylvania grand jury in 2016. They testified to Fr. Giella’s deviant sexual behavior, as well as his predilection for their urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood, which he regularly collected from them. The sisters testified that he even ingested some of the “samples” he collected from them.
The Diocese of Harrisburg covered up and otherwise ignored multiple reports regarding Giella’s misconduct with teenage girls in the 1980s and 1990s.
The 1987 Reports
Notably, the Diocese of Harrisburg received a report in 1987 that Fr. Giella insisted on watching a female student at Bishop McDevitt High School while she used the bathroom. She told her teacher that Fr. Giella also did “wrong things with children.” The information was reported to another priest, who immediately informed the Chancery in Harrisburg. The former teacher testified before the grand jury in 2017. Her testimony was consistent with a 1987 memo authored by Chancery officials and stored in the Diocese of Harrisburg’s secret archives under lock and key until it was produced by the Diocese under grand jury subpoena. According to the memorandum, Fr. Giella was known to engage in similar behavior with other girls, including one of the sisters he was abusing. According to the 1987 memo, a teacher at Bishop Neumann School reported that her student – the sister in question – told her that Fr. Giella watched her every time she had to use the restroom in his presence. A third female student had made a report that Fr. Giella “acted improperly towards her.” Chancery officials opted to do nothing, apparently upon advice of diocesan attorneys.
Fr. Giella remained in ministry until he voluntarily retired, a priest in good standing, in 1988. As noted by the grand jury, “in the the approximately five years that followed the Overbaugh memorandum [1988-1993], Fr. Giella continued to sexually abuse the girls identified in the Overbaugh memorandum, which included a reference to the family of girls.”
The 1992 reports and Giella’s arrest.
In 1992, under the leadership of new Bishop Nicholas Dattilo, the Diocese of Harrisburg received a report that Fr. Giella was still abusing girls in the Diocese of Harrisburg. In July 1992, a parish priest wrote to the Chancery outlining the allegations made by the family of a 12 year old girl, whose nude photographs had been found in Fr. Giella’s home. Fr. Giella admitted to having taken the photos of the girl, and added that he had sexually abused after first watching her bathe. “As time went on they became more comfortable with each other and the embraces became more intense and involved some fondling on his part,” according to the priest’s memo to Harrisburg leaders.
The family also reported the abuse to New Jersey and Pennsylvania law enforcement. Police executed a search warrant on Fr. Giella’s residence, where they found “young girl’s panties, plastic containers containing pubic hairs identified by initials, twelve vials of urine, soiled panties, sex books, feminine sanitary products (used), numerous photographs of girls in sexually explicit positions, and some photos depicting children in the act of urination.”
Giella’s arrest and the first civil lawsuit
Fr. Giella was arrested in August 1992. There is no evidence that any Harrisburg Chancery official (or any other priest in the Harrisburg Diocese) reported any allegations about Fr. Giella to police at any time.
Fr. Giella admitted to all of the allegations against him and was charged with child pornography and sexual abuse of minors. After his arrest, numerous women called police in Hackensack, New Jersey, to report that they had been fondled and otherwise sexually abused by Fr. Giella as minors, including some of the sisters from the family of eight. Their mother, who was told of the misconduct around this time, confronted the Vicar General and asked why the Diocese never took any action against Fr. Giella. Instead, Msgr. Hugh Overbaugh, the author of the 1987 memorandum, reportedly told the mother, “I always wondered why you were letting them go to the rectory.”
The family sued the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1992. Fr. Giella died in 1993 while awaiting trial. The matter eventually settled after his death but included an onerous confidentiality provision that required total secrecy on the part of the victims and their family. The 1987 Overbaugh memorandum was never produced in the litigation, which could be considered a clear, sanctionable violation of court rules if it was responsive to any document requests by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
In December 2019, two of the sisters abused by Giella filed lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Newark under a new New Jersey law that allowed the filing of previously-expired claims for a limited “window period.”
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused in the Archdiocese of Newark, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Newark now have legal options, but filing deadlines will apply so do not delay in reaching out to us. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in New Jersey and nationwide. We can help.