Central Jersey Priest Cleared of Child Sex Abuse by Church Tribunal
November 13, 2015
|Monsignor Raymond Cole in 2013 was suspended as pastor of the St. Joseph Parish following an accusation of sexual abuse decades ago.|
A Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a child in South Amboy in the late 1970s has been found not guilty by a church tribunal, Diocese of Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski said Friday.
Monsignor Raymond Cole was suspended from his duties as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in this tiny Somerset County borough in 2013 as a result of the allegation.
Officials said Friday, however, that Cole intends to resign his post soon and will go to Guatemala to study Spanish before returning to the ministry.
The accusation originally had been forwarded to the diocese by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which declined to pursue criminal charges because the statute of limitations for such a crime had expired.
Accusations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy has roiled the Catholic Church for years. This summer, Pope Francis took further steps to address the global scandal by creating a new church tribunal to judge bishops.
The church had a tribunal system since 2001 to judge priests such as Cole.
Cole was tried by a panel of three priests from outside of the diocese. In these trials, the witnesses and victims are quizzed by the judges instead of lawyers. The case was brought forward by the diocese, not the alleged victim, and the diocese has chosen not to appeal the decision, a spokeswoman in Metuchen said Friday.
While the not guilty verdict returns Cole to “good standing” in this Central Jersey diocese, Bootkoski said that Cole would not return to the parish. Instead, Cole will assume a still undefined role “in the critical area of Hispanic ministry,” Bootkoski said.
The tribunal handed down the verdict in September but church officials withheld the news, a spokeswoman said, "until all the details were worked out concerning timing of the announcement to the parish and monsignor Cole’s future ministry in the diocese."
“By the grace of God, I have never been angry with this person, who has been in my prayers all through this.”
Monsignor Raymond Cole
"Over the years, Monsignor Cole has had a great interest in the Diocese of Metuchen’s sister diocese of Santa Rosa in Guatemala. Monsignor Cole has received permission from Bishop Bootkoski to take an intensive course of study in the Spanish language in Guatemala, and when he returns, he will assist the diocese in area of Hispanic ministry," the diocesan spokeswoman added.
The St. Joseph parish continues to be led by a temporary administrator, the Rev. Francis "Hank" Hilton.
In a statement Friday, Cole said it "is a tremendous relief that this chapter of my life is over and that I am free to practice my priesthood."
"By the grace of God, I have never been angry with this person, who has been in my prayers all through this," he said. "I will not be returning to St. Joseph’s. This truly is a most difficult decision because I love my parishioners. 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."
Cole will celebrate Mass with Bootkoski at St. Joseph on Dec. 12
"While there can be neither victory nor victor in a situation such as this, the outcome of the trial means that Monsignor 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 said in a letter to parishioners.
“True to his character, Monsignor Cole fully cooperated during the investigation of the charges against him and never displayed any animosity toward his accuser or the process.”
Cole’s accuser, now an adult and who publicly has not been identified, alleged abuse when Cole was associate pastor of St. Mary in South Amboy. Cole has served as executive director of the diocese Department of Pastoral Life and was pastor at St. Joseph for two decades.
Before the internal trial, the charge was investigated on behalf of the diocese by a retired detective from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, and the charge was found to be "not frivolous" by the Diocesan Review Board of laypeople.
“The wheels of justice in the church, like those in our secular society, sometimes turn more slowly than we would like. At the same time, swift justice is not always perfect justice,” Bootkoski says in his letter. “Together, let us continue in our earnest prayers for Monsignor 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.