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  Expressing Remorse, Paterson Bishop Prepares to Hand over Names of Accused Priests

By Richard Lezin Jones
New York Times
April 16, 2002

Bishop Frank J. Rodimer, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, was preparing to hand over to prosecutors today the names of any priest accused of sexually molesting children in the diocese during the past four decades. The move came as the bishop acknowledged his "inadequacy" in handling some allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members and as church officials confirmed that he had settled a negligence lawsuit arising from one such case.

By releasing the names of accused priests, prompted by a request from prosecutors last week, Bishop Rodimer is following Catholic cardinals and bishops across the nation as they wrestle with responses to the priest sex scandals.

So Bishop Rodimer's declaration that he would release the names was not totally unexpected. But his announcement was unusually candid in its expression of remorse in not having done enough to avert the crisis.

"As a pastor," the bishop wrote in a three-page letter issued Saturday announcing that he would release the names, "I regret my own inadequacy.

"As a church, we have failed, in one significant area, namely the protection of children, to live up to the wisdom and challenge of Jesus Christ."

The bishop continued: "I deeply regret that I did not know 20 years ago what our society had come to know about such matters as pedophilia. If I had that knowledge then, I might have helped to prevent or eliminate some of this suffering."

A spokeswoman for the Paterson Diocese also confirmed that the bishop had settled a lawsuit in 1999 that arose from the conviction a year earlier of Peter J. Osinski, a priest in the Diocese of Camden, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he admitted molesting a boy for seven years beginning in 1983, when the boy was 7. The suit said that some of the molestation occurred in a Long Beach Island home that the bishop rented with Father Osinski.

The spokeswoman, Marianna Thompson, said that Bishop Rodimer was not accused in the suit of any sexual contact with the child, but of negligence. The suit, filed in Camden County against Father Osinski, Bishop Rodimer and the Diocese of Camden, charged that the bishop failed to recognize the distress of boy, whose name was not used in the suit.

Ms. Thompson said that the bishop was not aware of the abuse until Father Osinski was arrested. The bishop's settlement was first reported in The Record of Bergen County on Sunday.

The terms of the settlement were confidential, and Ms. Thompson declined to say how much had been paid to the boy's family. She said that the diocese had paid out as much as $2.5 million over the past several decades to settle sexual molestation lawsuits.

She said that diocesan officials had hoped to turn over the names of the accused priests to prosecutors in Passaic, Morris and Sussex Counties -- the three counties served by the diocese -- in the next several days.

The diocese is sorting through 40 years of files and examining the records of more than 200 priests, Ms. Thompson said, and the name of everyone who has been accused of misconduct -- whether the allegation was substantiated or not -- will be given to the authorities.

"Some of these people are retired, some are working as chaplains in the armed services," Ms. Thompson said. "And, of course, some of these names have already been adjudicated, and it will include people who the prosecutors have already said, 'This is wrong; this is false.' "

In his statement, Bishop Rodimer alluded to five priests accused of molestation who have already been identified in news reports. Besides Father Osinski, the bishop referred to the cases of Jose Alonso, the former pastor of a Paterson church who was sentenced to five years in prison in 1987 for molesting two altar boys; Charles Bradley, who was removed as a priest in 1995 after being accused of molestation; and William Cramer, who was allowed to work at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center despite pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child in the 1980's.

He also referred to the case of James T. Hanley, who was accused in a 1987 civil suit of molesting Mark Serrano, a parishioner in the Paterson Diocese. Mr. Serrano accused Father Hanley, who was later removed as a priest, of abusing him for seven years.

In his Saturday statement, Bishop Rodimer expressed regret for the handling of Mr. Serrano's claims.

"This was a case where, in hindsight, I deeply regretted not recognizing more quickly the serious nature of this problem," the bishop wrote.

Mr. Serrano found dim solace in the bishop's statement.

"I wish I could say this is a step in the right direction," he said, "but when the bishop only offers processed statements released by his communications team and doesn't come outside his office to address others directly, I find no relief in it."

URL: http://www.nytimes.com

CORRECTION-DATE: April 18, 2002

CORRECTION:

An article on Tuesday about the response by Bishop Frank J. Rodimer, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J., to allegations of child sexual abuse by priests misidentified the newspaper that first reported his settlement of a lawsuit arising from one such case. It was The Herald News of West Paterson, on Saturday; The Record of Hackensack carried such a report on Sunday.

 
 

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