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  Two Priests in Morris Placed on Leave
Named Indecades-Old Allegations of Abuse

By John Chadwick
The Record
April 23, 2002

The Diocese of Paterson has placed two priests on administrative leave after receiving allegations last week that the men engaged in sexual contact with minors more than two decades ago.

Both priests -- Ralph Sodano and Allen Stepien -- served in Clifton parishes before moving on to become pastors at Morris County churches.

Both had "spotless records" until last week's call, diocese attorney Ken Mullaney said.

In one case, however, prosecutors have already decided against bringing charges after a brief investigation. Lt. Stephen Foley, spokesman for Morris County Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio, said the accusation is too old and relies on third-hand information. He also said the alleged misconduct took place outside Morris County.

"We simply could not bring a viable prosecution," said Foley, who declined to say which priest he was discussing.

Acting Passaic County Prosecutor Boris Moczula, who is reviewing the other complaint, said he received it Monday morning and is just beginning his review.

Meanwhile, both clerics have been removed from their parishes and are prohibited in the short term from working as priests. Regardless of whether authorities bring charges against either man, both priests must undergo an independent psychological evaluation before being considered for a return to active ministry, Mullaney said.

Because the diocese refuses to release details of the priests´┐Ż career history, it was uncertain Monday which parishes the two were working in when the alleged misconduct occurred.

Most recently, both Sodano and Stepien served as pastors for parishes in the Morris County community of Washington Township. Sodano was at Our Lady of the Mountain, and Stepien was at St. Mark the Evangelist.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Sodano worked as an associate pastor at St. Brendan's on Lakeview Avenue in Clifton. In an interview with The Record several years ago, he spoke fondly of that era. "I had a beard and I rode a motorcycle, so I guess I was progressive," he said.

Stepien also once worked -- it is unclear when - as an associate pastor at St. Philip the Apostle on Valley Road in Clifton. The removal of the two priests was announced at Saturday night and Sunday morning Masses.The accusation against Sodano goes back 25 years. The accusation against Stepien is more than 20 years old.

Mullaney said the diocese learned of the complaints from "10-minute phone calls. " "People are calling in [complaints] because of the nationwide situation," said Marianna Thompson, spokeswoman for the diocese, which covers Passaic, Morris, and Sussex counties. "And we are bringing these complaints to prosecutors. " Cases such as these face challenges under the statute of limitations. The New Jersey statute requires victims to report criminal sexual contact or child endangerment complaints within five years of their 18th birthday.

For sexual assault cases, the statute of limitations for criminal complaints was abolished in 1996. But cases that occurred before that year aren't necessarily prosecuted.

Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, a former altar boy suing the Diocese of Camden for years of sexual abuse allegedly suffered at the hands of a priest testified Monday that it drove him to hate some clergymen.

Robert Young, 37, of Bear, Del., said he stopped attending Mass at age 18, after nine years of being molested by Monsignor Philip Rigney.

He said every time he entered a church, it reminded him of Rigney, a former Camden priest accused in a civil suit of sexually abusing Young and his brother, Philip Young.

"I don't have a hatred for the Catholic Church. I have a hatred for the priests and the bishops that lie," Young said.

Also, a priest serving in the Diocese of Metuchen has taken a voluntary leave of absence after church officials learned of allegations that he sexually abused a child more than 20 years ago. He is the second diocesan priest to take a leave of absence this month because of sexual abuse allegations.

Monsignor Michael Cashman, pastor of St. James R.C. Church in Woodbridge, agreed to take a leave when the allegations surfaced Tuesday, according to a published report.

 
 

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