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  Bishop 'Deeply Regrets' Failure to Avert Abuse
Rodimer Addresses 5 Cases

By Scott Fallon
The Record
April 14, 2002

Saying he regrets his "own inadequacy," Paterson Bishop Frank J. Rodimer on Saturday apologized for failing to prevent abuse by four priests under his watch and another with whom he shared a house.

"Personally, I deeply regret that I did not know 20 years ago what our society has come to know about such matters as pedophilia," he wrote in a three-page statement. "If I had that knowledge then, I might have helped to prevent or eliminate some of the suffering. " "As a pastor, I regret my own inadequacy," he said in the statement, which was released after revelations that he once shared a New Jersey shore summer house with a priest who molested a young boy there.

Church officials confirmed Saturday that Rodimer had settled a lawsuit three years ago which accused him of failing to notice the distress of the boy.

But Rodimer, through a spokeswoman, said he was unaware of the abuse until the Rev. Peter Osinski of the Camden Diocese was arrested in October 1997 on sexual assault charges.

"He never suspected anything was wrong," said Marianna Thompson, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Paterson. Rodimer "was horrified" when he learned of the abuse, she said. "These were two friends who rented a beach house. " The lawsuit was filed three years ago in state Superior Court in Camden against Osinski, Rodimer, and the Diocese of Camden. Terms of the settlement were kept confidential, and lawyers for both sides were unreachable for comment Saturday. A copy of the suit could not be obtained by The Record on Saturday.

Osinski pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

In the three-page release, Rodimer listed a series of cases of abusive priests and the actions he took or failed to take against them.

The release marks Rodimer's most direct confrontation of the issue and comes amid the national scandal over the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse complaints against priests.

Rodimer said he was troubled by the church's initial inaction after accusations in 1985 that the Rev. James Hanley, a priest at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wayne and parishes in Morris County, had abused altar boys and grammar school children in the 1970s. Though there was an investigation by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, the statute of limitations had run out on the cases.

Hanley was not removed from Immaculate Heart until early 1987, the statement acknowledges.

"This was a case where, in hindsight, I deeply regretted not recognizing more quickly the serious nature of this problem," wrote Rodimer, the spiritual leader of 377,000 Roman Catholics in Passaic, Morris, and Sussex counties since 1977.

At least one of Hanley's victims, Mark Saranno of Mendham, has won an undisclosed financial settlement with the diocese.

Rodimer said in the press release that there has been "no admission of liability or guilt on either side" in settlements, which often provide money for counseling and other assistance. Rodimer said any award paid to accusers came from insurance funds, not from any of the church's regular fund-raising initiatives.

In another case, Rodimer said he investigated allegations in the 1980s made against Monsignor Jose Alonso, the former rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson. He interviewed two priests who lived with Alonso, and they assured Rodimer that there was no evidence of abuse. A few years later in 1987, Alonso was charged with sexually assaulting two altar boys. He was convicted of the charges and sentenced to five years in prison.

Rodimer defended his decision in 1990 to allow the Rev. William Cramer to work at St Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson after the priest pleaded guilty to charges of endangering the welfare of a child in the 1980s. Cramer, who had worked at a Our Lady of the Lake in Sparta, was transferred to Our Lady of the Valley in Wayne and then to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Boonton after being accused of fondling two young brothers. He resigned from the Boonton parish in September 1985 after being indicted by a grand jury in Sussex County.

"It was clear that after an absence of several years from the priestly ministry, William Cramer did not fit the profile of an abuser who would continue to abuse children," wrote Rodimer, who added that Cramer has served "with distinction" at the hospital.

Rodimer said he was initially unaware of allegations against the Rev. Charles Bradley, who was alleged to have abused youngsters in 1981.

Bradley was removed from his assignment in 1995 and has never again functioned as a priest, Rodimer wrote.

Last week, the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office asked the diocese to turn over any accusations lodged against priests or other staff members. Diocesan officials had already begun reviewing files going back 35 years for any complaints against its clergy, before receiving the request. Acting Prosecutor Boris Moczula said his request reflected general concerns, not a specific allegation.

Last month, Rodimer sent a letter to parishioners urging them to report any instances of abuse by priests to authorities. "They have the expertise to deal with criminal matters," he wrote on March 26. "We as a church do not. " In Saturday's statement he wrote that in forwarding allegations to authorities, "no name of any priest accused will be omitted, regardless of how sparse the information or how weak the case may appear. " Rodimer said the diocese changed its policy on abuse allegations in 1993, directing any person with an accusation to contact the state Division of Youth and Family Services or law enforcement. The priest would be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation by authorities.

The statement also reads that "there is so much good happening in the church, especially through Catholic education and youth ministry. We cannot lose sight of this reality. " The statement also stressed that in the case of Osinski, who did not work under Rodimer, the bishop wrote that "I truly wish I had some suspicion of what was taking place. " Osinski was a member of the Camden Diocese at the time of his arrest and a longtime friend of Rodimer. Osinski was arrested after the victim, now 24 years old, told his parents of the years of abuse.

Osinski pleaded guilty in March 1998 in state Superior Court in Toms River to two counts of sexual assault. He admitted he sexually touched the boy on 12 occasions between 1983 and 1990, sometimes in the boy's own bedroom and sometimes at the vacation home in Brant Beach, a neighborhood in Long Beach Township, Ocean County.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with parole eligibility after two years. Osinski requested to serve his time in a state prison instead of the state Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel, where sex offenders usually are housed. It was unknown Saturday whether he was still incarcerated.

Osinski, the former principal of St. James High School in Carneys Point, had been treated in a church unit for clergy having sexual problems. At his sentencing, Osinski's therapist told the judge that the priest had been molested when he was 16.

The news of Rodimer's statement, which was also posted on the diocese's Web site, was just trickling to parishioners Saturday, and they reacted with mixed emotions.

Following the Saturday evening Mass at St. Philip the Apostle in Clifton, few parishioners seemed fazed by Rodimer's statements.

"My confidence is up there," said Margaret Shannon as she pointed to the sky.

But David Puskas said he questioned some of the church's decisions in handling abuse complaints. "I don't think the church dealt with the priests in the right way," he said. "I think they should have dealt with it another way. " Rodimer acknowledged as much in his statement.

"Hindsight is a brutal and humbling teacher," Rodimer wrote. "Regret and sadness will always remain with us as a result of our inadequacy. I will always carry with me a profound sadness for the children who have been abused by priests and the stories of church leaders who did not protect their victims and their families. "

 
 

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