Abuse Support Group Calls on Bishop to Meet:
Arthur J. Serratelli Has Vowed to Seek Healing As New Leader of the Paterson Diocese, a Focus of Priest Cases

By Wayne Parry
Associated Press, carried in Philadelphia Inquirer
June 7, 2004

PATERSON, N.J. - As he stood inside the ornate Cathedral of St. John the Baptist watching a new bishop be introduced, Johnny Vega felt a chill that had nothing to do with spirituality.

It was the first time he had set foot inside the cathedral since a priest sexually abused him there 30 years ago when he was an 11-year-old altar boy, he said.

Being in "the place of my desecration as a child victim, I could not help but note the irony of a press conference being held there announcing the new bishop," said Vega, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

The group wants incoming Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli to meet with its members as his first official act after his installation July 6.

The Roman Catholic Church faces many challenges in America: declining vocations, financial pressures that are forcing many parishes and schools to merge or close, and aggressive efforts by other denominations to convert Catholics.

But few issues have more emotional impact, or a higher profile, than the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the church in America and in the Diocese of Paterson, where more than 20 men have accused a former priest of molesting them when they were young.

At a news conference last week, Serratelli promised to "look for healing and reconciliation any way you can."

"We want to take this opportunity to let him demonstrate his commitment to that statement," said David Cerulli, a SNAP board member who has said a now-deceased Allentown priest abused him 40 years ago when he was a 14-year-old altar boy.

On Thursday, the support group tried to deliver a letter to Serratelli, who remains an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark until his installation as leader of 111 parishes in Passaic, Morris and Sussex Counties. But Serratelli was attending a funeral, said spokesman Jim Goodness, who accepted the letter on Serratelli's behalf.

In the letter, SNAP welcomed the incoming bishop and offered to work with him to address the needs of clergy-abuse victims. SNAP requested, among other things, that the diocese publicly name priests who have been "credibly accused" of child molestation, and that it settle rather than fight lawsuits brought on behalf of such victims.

Patricia Serrano's son, Mark, was one of the first in the nation to break a confidentiality agreement with the church, speaking out about abuse by a priest in Mendham. On Thursday, she offered Serratelli several gifts, including a pink cyclamen with heart-shaped leaves.

"This is a plant that requires a great deal of regular sunlight," she told Goodness outside Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. "We offer this plant as a reminder to Bishop Serratelli of the commitment of all bishops to operate with transparency and openness."

Goodness said the bishop had not committed to meeting with the group, but was well aware of the need to deal with the subject.

"The issue of sex abuse is one of the most important issues facing us in the church today," Goodness said. "The bishop is extremely sensitive to the needs of everyone - priests, religious, the laity."

Serratelli will succeed retiring Bishop Frank Rodimer, whom clergy-abuse victims fault for his handling of the Rev. James Hanley, the target of most abuse allegations in the diocese. Rodimer said he had waited 10 months to remove Hanley after the allegations were made public in the mid-1980s because he thought treatment for alcoholism would help end Hanley's alleged abuse.

Hanley asked to be defrocked in 2002, and the Vatican granted his request. He has not been criminally prosecuted; authorities said the statute of limitations had expired.


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