|Ex-Priest Admits Weapons Offense
By Rudy Larini
October 25, 2007
After rejecting earlier plea offers, former priest and admitted child molester James Hanley pleaded guilty yesterday to a weapons offense in connection to an incident at a Secaucus hotel last year.
James Hanley, 71, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon, admitting he used an aluminum bat to intimidate three employees of the Extended Stay Hotel on March 10, 2006. The hotel's desk clerk had told authorities Hanley became belligerent after the 23-year-old rebuffed his sexual advances.
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 7, but under the agreement, Hanley will serve only the year he already has spent in jail since being incarcerated last October for missing a court appearance.
Despite the urging of two judges, Hanley had rejected the same plea deal twice on Tuesday at the outset of jury selection for his Superior Court trial in Jersey City. He earlier had declined similar offers on two other occasions.
Hanley walked with the help of a cane yesterday, looking frail and disheveled with a scraggly, unkempt beard. After Judge Paul DePascale accepted his plea, he was released and left court, refusing to comment.
The former Catholic priest was removed from the clergy five years ago after admitting, in a sworn statement for a civil lawsuit, that he sexually abused about a dozen child parishioners in Mendham and Pompton Plains between 1968 and 1982.
He was never prosecuted for those offenses, however, because the statute of limitations had expired. In 2004, the Diocese of Paterson settled lawsuits with 21 of Hanley's accusers for nearly $5 million.
As part of yesterday's plea deal, charges of making terroristic threats and possessing a weapon for an unlawful purpose were dismissed. If convicted at trial, Hanley would have faced up to five years in prison, but more likely would have been placed on probation because he had no prior convictions, DePascale said Tuesday.
Because he was never convicted of the sex abuse, he is not on the state registry of offenders required under Megan's Law.
Hanley's lawyer, assistant public defender John Convery, refused to comment on why Hanley changed his mind and accepted the plea offer. Jury selection was to have resumed yesterday, but Hanley and Convery spent the morning discussing the deal.
Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Howard Bell said he was satisfied with the agreement.
"I think it's a very fair resolution in light of the fact that he's done a year in custody and will now have an indictable conviction," Bell said.
He had asked DePascale to require Hanley to report to court authorities weekly until he is sentenced, but the judge declined the request. Hanley told the court he will be living at a rooming house in Garfield.
Mark Serrano, one of Hanley's victims and a member of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, was not in court yesterday, but said in a telephone interview "it was empowering to see Father Hanley finally serving time even if it wasn't for the most egregious crimes he committed.
"But now that he's a free man, he poses a threat to the community because as psychologists will tell us, child molesters cannot control themselves," he added.
Serrano said Paterson diocesan officials, especially Bishop Arthur Serratelli, have an obligation to notify the community where Hanley will live of his past as an admitted child molester.
A former diocesan bishop, Frank Rodimer, knew Hanley had molested boys, but acknowledged he underestimated the seriousness of abuse when he first heard allegations in the 1980s and did not alert law enforcement at the time.
"He (Serratelli) knows the pain and harm James Hanley can inflict, will try to inflict. James Hanley is back on the hunt again," Serrano said.
But diocesan spokeswoman Marianna Thompson said notification was not the church's responsibility.
"Notification like that is reserved to the county prosecutor," she said. "That is the rule of law."
Rudy Larini may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 392-4253.
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