N.J. Priest Takes Leave of Absence after Sexting
By Amanda Oglesby
September 30, 2013
JACKSON, N.J. -- A Catholic priest who once ministered to a congregation here has taken a leave of absence following a sexting scandal with a man he reportedly thought was a 16-year-old boy.
The Rev. Matthew Riedlinger preached at St. Aloysius Church until August 2012, when he entered counseling following complaints of inappropriate cellphone text conversations with other adults, according to church leadership.
While in out-patient treatment, Riedlinger continued having sexual conversations, prompting the Diocese of Trenton to remove him from his parish. Last week, the diocese announced that Riedlinger had taken a leave of absence from the priesthood.
In 2011, Timothy Schmalz, 23, of Washington complained to the diocese in 2011 about Riedlinger’s behavior, saying the priest sexually harassed him, according to The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. To expose Riedlinger, Schmalz pretended online to be a 16-year-old boy, recorded text message conversations last year between Riedlinger and himself, and later forwarded them onto the diocese, according to the newspaper.
Schmalz declined an interview with the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.
The Diocese of Trenton did not address details of the complaints in its statement but said last week: “There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints.”
The diocese also reported the matter to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Al Della Fave, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said no criminal action was taken.
“The undercover sting that they did was done by a non-law-enforcement person. There was nothing we were able to do,” Della Fave said.
After Riedlinger’s removal from St. Aloysius, he entered a residential treatment center where he was supervised, according to the diocese. He also was not permitted “to minister in a parish or school setting.” He was permitted to participate in restricted ministry work but only with diocese permission.
Several weeks ago, Riedlinger was seen participating in a funeral Mass of another priest, prompting questions from the community.
“This is the only public Mass that Father Riedlinger has engaged in since his treatment program began and he was given permission to take part only because he was assisting Bishop Smith, who is unable to walk,” the diocese statement said.
The Rev. John Bambrick, St. Aloysius’ administrator, said perpetrators as well as victims of sexual crimes need treatment to stop the cycle of abuse.
“This is a compulsive behavior,” said Bambrick, who was a victim of a priest’s sexual abuse when he was a teenager.
Bambrick serves on various organizations to help halt sexual abuse. He is a member of the Catholic Whistleblower Network; Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and formerly served on the board of New Jersey’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Bishop David M. O’Connell, who leads the diocese, personally escorted Riedlinger to a residential treatment program after learning that the Ohio native continued to communicate sexually with people during his initial out-patient treatment, Bambrick said.
“You have to treat the victim always, but you also have to treat the abuser,” Bambrick said. “Otherwise, you just perpetuate the cycle of abuse. … The key is to break the cycle.”
In the church parking lot Sunday, many parishioners said they knew little of the details. Others expressed some sympathy for the scandal-embroiled priest.
“It (priesthood) is not for everybody, and maybe it wasn’t for him,” said Madeline Simone, 68, of Jackson, who said Riedlinger had heard her sins in confession. “If it’s going to affect the church, his being a priest, he (should) just as well then leave.”
“He’s a human being,” said a parishioner who declined to share her name. “Everybody has faults.”
The Diocese of Trenton was less sympathetic.
Though no laws were broken and no minors were involved, Riedlinger’s behavior was “deeply troubling and is in no way to be tolerated in the life and ministry of a priest,” the diocese’s statement read.
Each county prosecutor’s office has staff devoted to investigating sex crimes, and any person facing unwelcome advances should report it to law enforcement, Bambrick said.
“It’s really a shame that Father Matthew (Riedlinger) didn’t see how much love and support he had within this community of faith, that he sought inappropriate means of attention,” Bambrick said. “People really loved him. I think it’s very sad for him, and it’s very sad for the community because people felt betrayed.”
Riedlinger, who could not be reached for comment, is no longer living in New Jersey, Bambrick said. Riedlinger did not return an e-mail immediately for comment.