Convicted Ex-Priest Indicted in 2nd Case
Another Person Claims Sex Abuse
By Nyier Abdou
The Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
September 8, 2006
A former Milford priest convicted of molesting an 11-year-old altar boy has been indicted on charges of sexually assaulting another church victim while serving as a priest in Hunterdon County more than 10 years ago.
The Rev. John M. Banko, 60, of Hamilton, was indicted Wednesday on a first-degree charge of aggra vated sexual assault and second- degree endangering the welfare of a child, police said. Banko is serving a 15-year sentence at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel.
A statement issued by the Diocese of Metuchen said the allega tions against Banko were first reported to the Diocese and referred to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.
Police say Banko, known to his parishioners as "Father Jack," as saulted the victim, who was under the age of 16 at the time, on several occasions while Banko was pastor at the victim's church. The abuse happened on or around Sept. 1, 1994 and May 15, 1995.
Banko was pastor at St. Ed ward's Roman Catholic Church in Milford for six years before the Diocese of Metuchen removed him and sent him to Mary Mother of God Church in Hillsborough in 1995.
On April 6, 2000, not long after the prosecutor's office began an investigation into abuse allegations, the diocese removed Banko from the ministry.
In December 2002, Banko was convicted of performing oral sex on an 11-year-old altar boy on two occasions in St. Edwards' community center after Sunday Mass. One of the dates, Sept. 1, 1994, was the same day cited in the new charges against Banko.
"It is outrageous that these men get away with what they did for so long," said Mark Crawford, co-director of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "Here we are still handing out indictments for a cleric that's in jail already."
Crawford said the new charges show the statute of limitations impedes justice in child abuse cases.
"Especially in a case like this, there's often many victims," Craw ford said. "It underscores the fact that victims will only come forward when they're ready -- when they feel in a safe place."
Banko was the first Catholic priest to be convicted of sexual as sault following the national scandal that erupted in January 2002. Al though other alleged victims of abuse by Banko testified in his trial, their allegations never re sulted in charges due to the statute of limitations.
"It's rare that any clergy member is held accountable because of the statute of limitations," Craw ford said.
Crawford, who believes the state should conduct grand jury hearings for credible accusations, said Banko's victim might have been brought forward sooner if a hearing had been held.
"I'm sure this is not the last we've heard of this," Crawford said. "Let's hope this is the last one, but I don't believe that is the case."
Joanne Ward, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen said the lengthy process of laicization, which would formally remove Banko from the priesthood, has been put on hold because of Ban ko's incarceration.
If convicted, Banko could face up to 30 years in prison on top of his current sentence, police said.
Staff writer Matthew J. Dowling contributed to this report. Nyier Abdou works in the Somerset County bureau. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (908) 429-9925.
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