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  Names of Accused Priests to Be Supplied
Newarkdiocese Makes Deal with Prosecutors

By Ruth Padawer
The Record [Bergen County, NJ]
April 16, 2002

The Archdiocese of Newark announced Monday that it will give local prosecutors the names of priests or other church employees accused of abuse, making it the last of five New Jersey dioceses to pass on such accusations to authorities.

The agreement between the archdiocese and county prosecutors came on the same day that church officials acknowledged that yet another diocesan priest had been relieved of pastoral duties following allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

In a joint statement released late Monday, the archdiocese and the prosecutors for Bergen, Hudson, Union, and Essex counties — all in the archdiocese — said they had "established a constructive dialogue in order to ensure that any potential victims are protected. " They said allegations — of any kind of abuse against a victim of any age — will be investigated in a "thorough, timely and fair manner. " Both the archdiocese and prosecutors vowed to respect the confidentiality of those alleging abuse "as well as anyone who may be falsely accused. " The statement continued: "The prosecutors have been assured of complete cooperation by the archdiocese and will not comment on mere allegations, speculation, or hypothetical situations. " One day earlier, parishioners learned that the Rev. Dennis Cocozza had been asked to step down as pastor of the Church of the Assumption in Roselle Park in Union County. Cocozza will be replaced by the Rev. Ken Evans, a priest at the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River.

At Sunday Mass in Upper Saddle River, the church's pastor said Evans was replacing a priest who "had been removed because of 'what's been going on the Catholic Church,� " said a parishioner who did not want to be named. "He didn't specify exactly what the reason was, but everybody understood him perfectly well. " Evans did not return phone calls. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness would not elaborate on the reason behind Cocozza's "sabbatical. " But a church official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Monday that, one week ago, Cocozza was asked to leave after accusations of sexual improprieties involving a minor.

Last week, the archdiocese confirmed that the Rev. William Dowd had been quietly removed from his post at St. Luke's Church in Ho-Ho-Kus, also for alleged sexual improprieties involving a minor.

At a time when accusations like those are making almost daily headlines, prosecutors from all four counties in the archdiocese met Monday with the archdiocese's vicar-general, the Most Rev. Arthur Serratelli. It was, participants said, a meeting that everyone involved had requested.

The prosecutors could not be reached Monday evening for comment.

Goodness at the archdiocese would not say how many files, if any, his office would immediately forward.

Nor would he say how many allegations had been made against the church in the past few decades, or how many cases had been settled.

He also declined to say whether the new agreement applies only to current allegations or also to accusations made in the recent or distant past.

Under state law, all accusations regarding abuse of someone who is a minor must be passed on to the state Division of Youth and Family Services, which then forwards information to county prosecutors.

The decision by the Newark Archdiocese brings it in line not only with the archdioceses of New York and Boston — which recently agreed to provide names to authorities - but also with the dioceses in the rest of the state.

Under pressure from authorities, the Paterson Diocese, for instance, announced last week that it would provide names of alleged abusers to prosecutors in Morris, Passaic, and Sussex counties, all part of that diocese.

"No name of any priest accused will be omitted, regardless of how sparse the information or how weak the case may appear," Bishop Frank Rodimer said in a statement.

The diocese acknowledged it had paid $2.2 million to $2.5 million over the last 20 years to settle several sex abuse cases involving children. Rodimer also apologized for his "own inadequacy" in failing to prevent abuse by four priests under his watch and another priest with whom he shared a summer house.

Likewise, the Camden Diocese announced last week that it had turned over to local prosecutors the names of 19 priests who had been accused of sexual abuse, a dozen of whom had been named in civil lawsuitsbrought by alleged victims.

The suits against the diocese allege it tolerated the abuse and sought to cover it up, a contention the diocese vigorously denies."

 
 

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