Priest Faces Abuse Charge
Indictment Returned. Accusations Stem from Alleged Incident during Balko's Tenure in Milford
By Andrea Eilenberger
September 7, 2006
Flemington — A Catholic priest already serving time for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old altar boy is now facing another round of sexual assault charges.
A Hunterdon County grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday against the Rev. John Banko, accusing him of sexually assaulting a second child.
The latest allegation occurred between Sept. 1, 1994, and May 15, 1995, when Banko was serving as pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Milford.
Banko, 60, is accused of having sex with the victim, who was younger than 13, according to the indictment. He was indicted on a charge of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. A second count in the indictment accuses Banko of engaging in sexual conduct with the victim and charges him with endangering the welfare of a child.
The allegations were first reported to the Diocese of Metuchen and turned over to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's office, diocese spokeswoman Joanne Ward said.
The diocese is not commenting further about the accusations in light of the investigation, according to a statement released Wednesday night.
If convicted on both counts, Banko could face up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $350,000, according to the prosecutor's release.
"The diocese will continue to cooperate with the prosecutor's office and trusts that, ultimately, justice will prevail," Ward stated. Ward said St. Edward's parishioners would be informed of the situation this weekend.
Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes declined to comment on the case.
Priest's prior conviction
Banko is serving an 18-year sentence in the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center of Avenel, a psychological facility for sex offenders. He was convicted in 2002 on first-degree sexual assault charges.
The conviction stems from abuse that occurred in 1993, when Banko took an 11-year-old into a storage room at St. Edward's where altar boys changed before Mass. Banko locked the door, and sexually assaulted him, according to court testimony. The same thing happened after the next week's Mass.
Banko threatened to harm the boy's family if he told, and the boy didn't tell them of the abuse until about six years later. The county prosecutor's office began investigating in December 1999.
Three other men testified that Banko had made sexual advances toward them and inappropriately touched them while he was a pastor at St. Edward, a second New Jersey church, and at a Catholic boy's school in Baltimore.
According to the diocese's statement, Banko was removed from ministry on April 6, 2000, and has been prohibited from "exercising priestly ministry."
After the 2002 conviction, other allegations surfaced. The diocese spent $800,000 for settlements, legal and medical fees related to abuse allegations made by 10 different parishioners against various diocese priests, including the boy Banko was convicted of abusing.
"The diocese has taken every step possible to prevent child sexual abuse," Ward said. "It's something that we will always be very vigilant about."
Expansion of enforcement
According to the diocese's Web site, reporting procedures have been enacted and the Diocesan Review Board expanded. Both measures are designed to prevent sexual abuse and teach parishioners how to identify and report such acts. The Diocese also established the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the program Protecting God's Children to serve those ideals.
The Diocese also requires individuals working with children to undergo a criminal background check and fingerprinting.
"Any and all allegations, whether credible or not, reported to us are immediately forwarded to law enforcement," according to the Web site.
Mark Crawford, co-director of New Jersey's Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, commended the Diocese and the Most Rev. Paul Bootkoski, diocese bishop, for handling abuse allegations genuinely and openly.
A SNAP member is listed as a member of the Diocese's Review Board, which assists the bishop's assessment of sexual abuse claims and determines a cleric's suitability for ministry, according to the diocese Web site.
Although unfamiliar with the newest allegations, Crawford said he was "glad someone's found the courage to come forward."
"Another Banko victim is truly tragic," Crawford said.
Reporter Andrea Eilenberger can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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