Lawsuit Alleges Priest Molested Boy 100 Times

By John Chadwick [Peterson NJ]
July 12, 2003

A former Fair Lawn resident has sued the Paterson Diocese, saying a priest repeatedly molested him as a child, and that church leaders who knew of the abuse failed to take action.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in state Superior Court in Paterson, accuses the Rev. James A.D. Smith of sexually assaulting the boy more than 100 times from 1962 to 1966, when Smith was serving in parishes in Paterson and Clifton.

Bishop Frank Rodimer, who the lawsuit says was then working as a midlevel administrator, is accused of failing to stop Smith. The suit says the boy's grandmother approached Rodimer and asked him to protect her grandson.

"Rodimer summarily dismissed her from his office," the suit says.

Diocesan lawyer Ken Mullaney said he hadn't received a copy of the complaint and couldn't comment in detail. But he said the accusation against Rodimer is hard to believe.

"I've known Bishop Rodimer to be a courteous, polite and respectful individual," Mullaney said. "I find it absolutely unbelievable that he would be discourteous to someone."

Mullaney also said Smith "adamantly, adamantly denies these charges."

Smith is already facing the threat of disciplinary measures from the diocese in connection with the allegations.

Smith's accuser came forward last year, contacting a diocesan review board charged with investigating sexual abuse. The board determined the accusations against Smith were credible and have referred the case to Rome. The Vatican must now decide whether to initiate a church trial, which could end in Smith being defrocked or sent into seclusion.

The lawsuit, which seeks an undisclosed amount of money, accuses Smith of befriending the boy's family to draw him into an abusive relationship. Assuming the role of a mentor, Smith had "solitary access" to the boy in the family's home, the rectories of St. Jude's in Paterson and Sacred Heart in Clifton, and on numerous family vacations where Smith was an invited guest. Smith also took the boy on numerous vacations alone.

The alleged abuse started when the boy was 12 and ended when he was 16. When the boy tried to end the relationship, Smith wrote a letter which is contained in the lawsuit.

The letter reads in part: "Do you remember how often you told me ... that nothing and no one would ever make you want anyone else but me for life?"

The lawsuit faces a struggle to get to court. Most of the charges fall beyond the statute of limitations, which requires victims to report their accusations by the time they are 20. But Gregg Shivers, the plaintiff's attorney, said there are exceptions to the law, including one for emotional duress.

"We believe our case will survive the statute of limitations," Shivers said.


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