N.J. Priest, Cleared of "70s-era Sex Abuse Claim, Will Return to Ministry
By Mark Mueller
November 13, 2015
[letter from Bishop Bootkoski] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2513287-bishop-bootkoski-letter-on-fr-raymond-cole.html
|Msgr. Raymond Cole, the former pastor of St. Joseph Church in Hillsborough, has been cleared of sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s. (Diocese of Metuchen)|
A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a child in the 1970s has been found not guilty by a church tribunal, clearing the way for his return to ministry after a two-year suspension, Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski announced Friday.
Msgr. Raymond L. Cole, 72, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph Church in Millstone Borough, just outside Hillsborough, in October 2013, after the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office alerted the diocese to the sexual abuse claim.
At the time, Bootkoski said canon law required a priest's suspension when an allegation had been "deemed to have a semblance of truth." The claim dates to the late 1970s, when Cole served as an associate pastor at St. Mary Parish in South Amboy.
In a letter to parishioners of the Millstone church, Bootkoski wrote that the tribunal, composed of three priests from outside the Diocese of Metuchen, cleared Cole after conducting a church trial. The priests are expert in canon law and experienced in the church's judicial process, the bishop wrote.
"While there can be neither victory nor victor in a situation such as this, the outcome of the trial means that Msgr. Cole is again a priest in good standing in the diocese, and I hope this decision will be the first step in fully restoring his reputation," Bootkoski wrote. "True to his character, Msgr. Cole fully cooperated during the investigation of the charges against him and never displayed any animosity toward his accuser or the process."
Cole and his accuser both testified before the tribunal, said Erin Friedlander, a spokeswoman for the diocese. The nature of the charges and the gender of the accuser have not been made public. At the time of the allegation, the criminal statute of limitations had long since passed.
Cole, who has consistently maintained his innocence, expressed relief at the verdict in a brief statement Friday afternoon.
"It is a tremendous relief that this chapter of my life is over and that I am free to practice my priesthood," he said. "I thank the Lord Jesus for sustaining and strengthening me during these two years. By the grace of God, I have never been angry with this person, who has been in my prayers all through this."
Despite the tribunal's ruling, Cole said he will not return to St. Joseph, his home of three decades, calling it "the most difficult decision and sacrifice of my life."
"This truly is a most difficult decision because I love my parishioners," he said. "They have been so supportive of me and shown such patience as they awaited with me the decision of the Tribunal, and I do not want to see them stressed again."
The parish has been under the leadership of an administrator, the Rev. Hank Hilton, since Cole's removal.
Cole, who has previously done missionary work overseas, said he will study Spanish in Guatemala, then return to the Diocese of Metuchen to work in Hispanic ministry.
In his letter, Bootkoski thanked parishioners for their patience, describing the process as a "difficult two years."
"The wheels of justice in the church, like those in our secular society, sometimes turn more slowly than we would like," the bishop wrote. "At the same time, swift justice is not always perfect justice.
"Together," he added, "let us continue in our earnest prayers for Msgr. Cole, for all our priests, for all parishioners of St. Joseph's parish and, most especially, for all who are victims of the evil of sexual abuse."
The Diocese of Metuchen is home to more than 630,000 Roman Catholics in Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren and Middlesex counties.