Ex-Priest: I Admitted Sex Abuse to Paterson Bishop In'84

By Jeff Diamant
Newark Star-Ledger
August 27, 2004

Former priest James Hanley admitted he molested at least 16 boys at three Catholic churches in Morris County, and said he told former Paterson Bishop Frank Rodimer about 12 of them in 1984, long before his formal removal from the ministry last year.

In a sworn statement taken 10 months ago for a lawsuit against the Paterson Diocese, Hanley admitted to engaging in oral sex, sexual touching, open-mouth kissing and masturbation with the boys and said he showered with them.

Hanley, 66, who now lives in Paterson, said he suffered from alcoholism and manic-depression and that he molested the boys during his manic states, thinking he was helping them.

"I felt I was doing a service to them," he said in the statement. "That might be hard to believe, but when you're manic, you actually feel that you're helping them. I had no idea ... that I was causing any psychological harm to them."

Plaintiffs in the case against the diocese say Hanley's statement shows Rodimer acted improperly.

In the statement, filed yesterday in Superior Court in Morristown, Hanley said that in September 1984 during a meeting about a single accusation of sexual abuse, he told Rodimer he had molested about a dozen boys. Rodimer, however, did not ask him for the names of the other victims, Hanley said.

Hanley's admission to Rodimer was made years before most of his victims came forward.

The statement was taken as part of a lawsuit in which 25 people -- 20 of whom accused the former priest -- sued the diocese and Rodimer in January, charging that church negligence and inaction allowed Hanley to abuse them at the Church of St. Joseph in Mendham and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pompton Plains.

The abuse case is the largest one to surface in New Jersey since the national clergy sex abuse scandal broke in 2002.

A spokeswoman for the Paterson Diocese would not comment on Hanley's statement, saying she had not yet seen it. She referred questions about Rodimer to a Morristown attorney, Steve Weinstein, whose office did not issue a comment. Rodimer served as Paterson bishop from 1978 until he retired in June. He was replaced by Bishop Arthur Serratelli.

In the statement, Hanley said he learned of the accusations against him at the 1984 meeting when Rodimer told him two other priests said they heard Hanley had abused a boy at St. Joseph.

"He says, 'Is it true?' And I say, 'Yes, bishop, it is,'" Hanley said in the statement. "I never denied it. ... The bishop said, 'Well, Jim, I want you to know that you're not the only one (priest in the diocese to abuse boys)."

Hanley said Rodimer did not get him counseling until a year later, and then only after having falsely told the parents of one victim from St. Joseph, Mark Serrano, that Hanley was in counseling.

Hanley said Rodimer did not remove him from the ministry until Serrano's parents complained in early 1986 -- more than a year after his admission to the bishop.

Rodimer has said he underestimated the seriousness of the allegations until it was too late to prosecute. No criminal charges were filed against Hanley because the statute of limitations had expired.

Hanley served in five North Jersey churches from 1962, the year he was ordained, until 1986. Parishioners from all but one of those churches have come forward to say he abused them.

He has been cooperating with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Greg Gianforcaro, the plaintiff's attorney, because "he feels this is the least he could do for these young men given the abuse he's put them through."

The diocese wants the suit dismissed, arguing the statute of limitations has expired. The statute generally bars abuse victims from filing civil cases once they turn 20.

But Gianforcaro said the case should go forward because of provisions in state law that let victims file lawsuits if it took them until later in life to mentally connect the abuse to damages they suffered, or if they repressed memory of the abuse. Those involved in the suit against the diocese fall under those provisions, he said.

Gianforcaro said he filed Hanley's statement in Superior Court so Judge Deanne M. Wilson would understand the depth of the abuse and "why victims don't come out earlier. ... If the abuser thought he was helping these young boys, and he's the adult abuser, how can you expect a child to understand and appreciate that he's being abused?"

Serrano said yesterday that Hanley's version of events was consistent with his own recollection of the abuse he suffered.

"The whole milieu of abuse was through this context of sex ed, that Hanley was instructing me because these were things I needed to know," said Serrano, a national board member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for victims.

Raymond Skettini, 47, of Highland Lakes section of Vernon Township, who was abused by Hanley 34 years ago at Our Lady of Good Counsel, said Hanley's admission "was probably the only silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud. At least this is one individual who admitted what he did."

Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached him at or (973) 392-1547.