Accused Priest Awaiting Verdict

By Gene Racz
Home News Tribune [New Jersey]
July 2, 2007

Staying with friends at times, maintaining himself at an undisclosed apartment on a modest monthly stipend from the Catholic Church, Mike Cashman awaits his verdict in earthly limbo.

It's been over five years since the charismatic priest took a leave of absence as pastor of St. James Roman Catholic Church in Woodbridge after being accused of sexually abusing two children.

The accusers, a 14-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister at the time, both stepped forward some 24 years after the alleged incident took place in 1979. Their family attended St. Ambrose Parish in Old Bridge.

Maintaining his innocence, Cashman signed off on a settlement with the Diocese of Metuchen, awarding the family of the accusers approximately $140,000.

Cashman, who has not been allowed to function in any capacity as a priest or representative of the church until he is either removed or reinstated, declined to be interviewed for this article. The 57-year-old native of Ireland referred all questions to his Woodbridge-based civil attorney, Raymond Gill, who is outraged that his client has been denied basic due process rights. Gill noted that Cashman's case went to the Vatican before being bounced back to an ecclesiastical court in Philadelphia where it has yet to be resolved. The process was slowed when one canonical judge of the three-member panel resigned from the case and had to be replaced.

Gill feels that justice delayed has been justice denied for Cashman.

While Bishop Paul Bootkoski and Vicar General William Benwell of the Diocese of Metuchen declined to comment on the case, the diocese did release an update on the matter through spokesperson Joanne Ward, who said "the revised court has been meeting about the case."

A letter written by Benwell was sent by the diocese to St James parish in December 2006 noting that a new member of the Philadelphia tribunal has "assured the bishop that he will make this case a priority and will do all that he can to conclude it in as timely a manner as possible."

Canonical trials are notoriously slow and are much different than trials held in ordinary, civilian courts of law. Canonical trials have their own rules, procedures, penalties and laws of appointment. Civilian attorneys are not allowed to defend accused persons. The accused is represented, instead, by a canonical lawyer who is opposed by a prosecutor known as the "promoter of justice." The trials are confidential, and the aim is to get to the bottom of the accusation(s).

For civil attorneys such as Gill, due process rights afforded the accused in ecclesiastical courts pale in comparison to regular courts of law. It is for this reason that many find the canonical trial process flawed.

"You look at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and you see a whole list of freedoms that are guaranteed," said Gill. "There's the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment, you have a right to a presumption of innocence; you have a right to a defense counsel, you have a right to a speedy trial. You name the Constitutional protection, it's been violated here.

"We don't know what prompted this, because we haven't been given any due process," added Gill. "You get due process for the most minor infringements for any law in New Jersey. There are things like a police report, signed statements, search warrants, forensic evidence. They give all this to you when charges are officially brought.

"Enemy combatants are given more due process than Mike Cashman."

Gill noted that he was not only precluded from presenting any evidence in Cashman's favor after the priest was accused in April 2002, but was precluded from speaking at all on behalf of Cashman. Gill noted that Cashman's accusers did not file a police report, but instead contacted an attorney and made statements before a review board of the Metuchen diocese. Cashman did likewise and also took a lie-detector test.

The Diocese of Metuchen, however, took the accusations against Cashman seriously enough to lump Cashman into an $800,000 settlement with four other accused priests.

This past June would have marked the 32nd year for Cashman in the priesthood. He started his pastoral work at St. Ambrose shortly after arriving in America from Ireland in 1974. He served for three years at Immaculate Conception Parish in Spotswood before moving onto to Church of the Sacred Heart in New Brunswick, where he spent 12 years. He was pastor at St. James since 1995 before the allegations were made.

There are no shortage of Cashman's former parishioners who feel confident enough to continue vouching for their former pastor whose diminutive stature and long flowing beard cuts a visage as distinctive as his brogue.

"I tell you, he resurrected Sacred Heart parish from the dead," said Bill Conway, a lifelong parishioner at Sacred Heart who retired as police chief in New Brunswick in 1992. "The parish was on its way out. He's a very charismatic man and loved everyone in the parish. When he arrived there, he brought many of the parishioners back who had left the parish at different times.

"Believe me, that man is a godly man. I think if you went to any parishioner in Sacred Heart church, they would tell you the same thing — he's not guilty of that charge," said Conway.

"I think his civil rights have been violated — I mean the delay there. They should have charged him. They should give him a verdict. His name comes up often throughout the city — anybody that was a parishioner. I hope they give him some sort of reprieve," Conway said.

Gill hopes that a video in which one of Cashman's accusers and her mother speak admiringly of Cashman at a St. James church anniversary banquet will be reviewed as evidence as well as a letter from Benwell sent to Cashman in which, according to Gill, Benwell states that Cashman's case "rises to the level of a miscarriage of justice."

"I think (the church) thought, "If we can nip this in the bud, there will be the least possible publicity and we'll just throw this man under the bus,' " said Gill. "But what the church did was take from him every Constitutional guarantee he's had.

"I think (the church) is waiting for his contract to run out," added Gill. "I think his term at St. James expired in June 2007. Perhaps they're looking at this from the perspective that if his term assignment is over in '07, then why go through the whole process when they can just re-assign him to Bolivia, Vietnam or Lebanon, and say "Take it or leave it?' "

Gene Racz: (732) 565-7306;


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