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  Authorities Seek Files of 2 Priests on Leave

By Dore Carroll
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
May 2, 2002

Middlesex County prosecutors have asked the Diocese of Metuchen to hand over files on two priests who have been placed on leave in the wake of allegations of past misconduct.

In a request to diocesan attorney Anthony LaRocco, prosecutors said they did not name the two priests, but made it clear they want to be told of any other allegations of abuse against them.

"We have a few different matters to pursue," said Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Barbara Stolte, head of the sex crimes unit. "Basically, we're awaiting their response, and they've indicated they'll cooperate."

Though the priests were not named in the request to diocesan officials, Stolte's office wants to see personnel records for the Rev. John Butler, the pastor at St. John Vianney Church in Colonia who was accused of misconduct with a minor on Long Island 40 years ago, and Monsignor Michael Cashman, the spiritual leader of St. James Church in Woodbridge, who was alleged to have abused a boy at an Old Bridge church 20 years ago.

No criminal charges are pending against any priests in Middlesex County, Stolte said, and prosecutors are waiting for church officials to conclude an internal review of all personnel files, searching for allegations.

"The bishop wants to make sure this is done carefully and thoroughly and that it's done right," said Joanne Ward, spokeswoman for Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski.

The Metuchen Diocese, which covers Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties, may be taking longer than the state's four other dioceses to review its personnel files, Ward said, because Booktoski was just appointed bishop in March and he wants to ensure a comprehensive review.

Butler has been accused of misconduct while serving in the Diocese of Rockville Center on Long Island from 1958-1964. Cashman was confronted with allegations that he abused children in a family while he was an associate pastor at St. Ambrose Church in Old Bridge in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

With a steady flow of allegations to contend with, church officials have struggled to balance priests' privacy with prompt reactions to the new allegations.

The state's five Catholic dioceses have taken differing approaches to the scandal, and most of the state's 21 county prosecutors have assumed a passive role - waiting for the diocese in their areas to report possible cases of past sexual abuse by priests.

Prosecutors in Essex, Bergen, Union and Hudson counties, for example, met last month with leaders of the Newark Diocese, agreeing to wait for the diocese to conduct an internal review of its files and to pass on any case which the diocese decides merits a review by authorities. To date, the Newark Diocese has not turned over any files.

In contrast, the Diocese of Paterson has taken a more public approach, releasing the names of two priests less than two weeks ago and reassigning them amid complaints of sexual misconduct.

But Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese, which covers Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties, said that practice will stop.

"The prosecutors have since limited our participation simply to reporting matters that come to our attention. The prosecutors have asked us not to reassign people or release their names when such matters arise. We will simply forward any reports or information to the prosecutors," Thompson said.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Diocese of Belleville in southern Illinois announced yesterday it has placed one of its priests on leave because of new allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor when he was serving in New Jersey a quarter-century ago.

Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory said the allegations against the Rev. Edward Balestrieri, 71, go back to 1975 or 1976, when Balestrieri was at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Asbury Park. At the time, Balestrieri was a member of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, more commonly known as the Trinitarians.

The Rev. Thomas Burke, who handles legal affairs for the Trinitarians, said the Baltimore-based order received a letter on April 18 alluding to past misconduct by Balestrieri. Burke said the Rev. Gerard Lynch, the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, "conducted a preliminary interview" with the complainant and forwarded his findings to both the order and the Catholic Diocese of Trenton. Burke said he alerted the Belleville diocese.

The Diocese of Trenton already had identified 13 priests accused of molesting minors during the past 50 years and was preparing to share that information with prosecutors when it learned of the allegations against Balestrieri, according to Steven Emery, a spokesman for the diocese.

"We turned right around and sent that file to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office," Emery said.

 
 

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