Lawyer Says Abuse Priest Implicated Paterson Bishop in Cover-up

By Steve Strunskyp
The Associated Press
August 26, 2004

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A former Roman Catholic priest accused of sex abuse implicated his former bishop in a cover-up, according to transcripts of an interview filed Thursday in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Paterson.

The allegations of abuse mainly involve students at a diocesan elementary school in Mendham, St. Joseph's Catholic School, during the 1980s.

The transcripts were part of a response to a motion by the diocese seeking to dismiss the suit on grounds that the statute of limitations has expired.

The lawsuit was filed in January in state Superior Court in Morris County.

The interview was conducted without a lawyer for the priest present, and therefore does not constitute a deposition that would be admissible in court as evidence.

But, the plaintiff's lawyer Gregory Gianforcaro, said the interview can be used by Judge Deanne M. Wilson in weighing whether to dismiss the suit.

In the interview, conducted last fall by Gianforcaro in former priest James T. Hanley's Paterson apartment, the lawyer asks Hanley when former Bishop Frank Rodimer, the principal defendant in the suit, became aware of the abuse allegations and how he responded to them.

Rodimer, who retired in July, is not accused of abuse himself, but rather of failing to supervise his abusive priests and of disregarding victims' complaints.

"In approximately 1984, September, I received a call from the office to come down," Hanley says in the transcript. "And the bishop told me that a young man had come forward to Father (Kenneth) Lash and father (Michael) Drury that I had abused him while I was at St. Joseph's. And the bishop said his name was Mark Serrano. He said, 'Is this true?' and I said, 'Yes, Bishop, it is.' I never denied it outright. (I) said yes, it's so.' The bishop said, 'Well, Jim, I want you to know that you're not the only one."'

Later in the interview Hanley says of Rodimer, "I think he felt in control of the situation as long as Mark didn't tell his parents."

Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese, declined to comment on Hanley's statements.

Thompson said the diocese has until Sept. 27 to respond to the plaintiff's filing, after which the judge will review the submissions and schedule arguments on the motion.

She said Rodimer was not available for comment. A call to his lawyer, Stephen S. Weinstein, was referred to the diocese.

Hanley has a nonpublished telephone number.

Apart from the Hanley interview, Gianforcaro contends the statute of limitations has not lapsed, because it only applies after victims become conscious that abuse had occurred. Victims of abuse typically suppress those memories, he said.

Mark Serrano, who two years ago broke a confidentiality agreement that was part of his own 1987 sex abuse suit against the diocese, said Hanley's recollection of Rodimer's inaction was consistent with his own.

"He told me he had met with Father Hanley, Father Hanley had admitted the abuse, and it was his job to forgive Father Hanley and give Father Hanley another chance," Serrano said of Rodimer.

"This is the first time that we have seen a priest-perpetrator acknowledge the scope of his crimes and reveal the story of a cover-up from his bishop," Serrano said.

Gianforcaro said Hanley was not named as a defendant in the suit because of his cooperation. Prosecutors have said the statute of limitations on criminal charges against Hanley has lapsed.

Varga was 9 years old in 1971 and living in the Stevens Point area when her parents befriended Bornbach after he presided at a family wedding at St. Michael's Church in Hewitt.

The priest eventually asked to spend time with Varga and her sister, who is a year younger.

Bornbach would take the girls for drives during which they would stop at waysides. Once, Varga recalled, they stopped at Rib Mountain State Park.

During their stops, Bornbach would tell Varga's sister to wait outside the car and then kiss Varga on the mouth and rub her legs and thighs.

"I remember he smoked cigars," she said this week.

The abuse continued for about a year. Varga did not recall this week how many drives she and her sister took with the priest.

The last instance of abuse took place in the rectory adjacent to the church in Hewitt. Bornbach led Varga to an upstairs bedroom after promising to show her some jewelry. Her younger sister waited downstairs.

"He asked to see my burns," said Varga, whose left arm and side had been scalded when she was younger.

She doesn't remember whether she or Bornbach unbuttoned her dress, but the priest laid the naked 9-year-old on a bed and molested her.

"Then the housekeeper stepped into the bedroom. That is the last time I remember anything happening," Varga said. "The housekeeper says she doesn't remember seeing anything."

After the incident, Varga said, Bornbach bought her a bike.

Varga, who did not tell her parents about the abuse until she was 18 or 19, said she sought counseling in 1997.

"I was having problems trusting anyone with my children. I wouldn't leave them alone," Varga said. Her relationship with her husband was suffering, as well.

Her therapist recommended that Varga tell her story in a letter to the Diocese of La Crosse.

The diocese appointed a liaison to the case within days of receiving the letter in January 2003.

As the months dragged on, Varga requested a meeting with the diocese's sexual abuse lay advisory board but received no response. She eventually began calling individual members of the advisory board and requesting a meeting with Burke.

Varga and her husband finally met with Burke this January, shortly before he left for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Burke, Varga said, told her he had never spoken with Bornbach.

That was Varga's last contact with the diocese for months.

In June, Bornbach called Varga and asked to meet. They spoke for about 20 minutes on the phone, Varga said, and he asked several questions about her life now. Varga said she would think about meeting with him.

When Bornbach called again a few days, Varga declined to meet with him.

In July, the advisory board met with Bornbach.

The letter from the diocese arrived more than a month later.

Another case

Varga's case is the second confirmed case of child sexual abuse in the La Crosse Diocese that has been reported by the media.

The first case that became public knowledge involved Bruce E. Ball, a Colby priest who was convicted on child molestation charges in 1992 and served five years in prison. Two victims received payments totaling $66,125 from the diocese's insurance company. Ball died in February 2003 at age 55.

Ball was not the only abusive priest in the diocese, however.

In January, the diocese reported that 58 accusations of child molestation against 28 priests had been received from 1950 to 2002. Thirty-one claims, involving 10 priests, had been confirmed.

That report coincided with the release of results of a September 2003 audit by the U.S. bishops conference that found that the La Crosse diocese had not fully complied with national guidelines for dealing with abusive priests.

Finding closure

Varga said the letter from the diocese had provided her some piece of mind.

She now would like to meet with Bornbach to "try to forgive him."

"I need to hear him say 'I'm sorry,'" Varga said.

Varga has turned for support to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and has befriended the group's Midwest director, Peter Isely, who is based in Milwaukee.

Most victims of sexual abuse by priests do not come forward, let alone push as far as Varga did, Isely said.

"There were times that I wanted to quit ... but I knew the truth was on my side," Varga said.


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