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  Paterson Priest to Challenge Dismissal
Hires Canon Lawyer in Fight with Bishop

By John Chadwick
The Record
July 9, 2002

As the nation's bishops begin enforcing new rules for priests who sexually abuse minors, one local priest plans to file an appeal in order to avoid punishment.

The Rev. William N. Cramer, who in 1988 pleaded guilty to fondling two boys, and is facing possible removal from the priesthood, has told Paterson Bishop Frank Rodimer that he has retained the services of a canon lawyer - a specialist in the legal tradition of the Roman Catholic Church who can bring his case before the Vatican if necessary.

"Reverend Cramer has considered the matter and retained a canon lawyer," the Diocese of Paterson said in a statement Monday. "He will pursue the right to due process as described in canon law."

Bishops meeting in Dallas last month approved a landmark policy amid a national crisis over abusive priests. If priests sexually abuse a child so much as once, bishops are required to take them out of all active church roles, or remove them from the priesthood.

Rodimer met June 18 with Cramer, telling him the requirements of the new rules and placing him on leave from his job as head chaplain at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson.

Cramer has since replied to the bishop, asking him to reconsider whether the new rules should apply to his case. Rodimer has affirmed his initial decision, the diocese said.

Cramer, who declined comment Monday, remains on leave. "He is not working at St. Joseph's Hospital nor is conducting any other public, priestly ministry," the diocese said.

The bishops' new rules carry a key caveat: They must conform with church law. While the rules went into effect immediately, the Vatican is still reviewing the legal underpinning of the document.

The Rev. Ken Lasch, a Morris County priest who is a canon lawyer, speculated that Cramer could argue that removal from active ministry violates church law, which traditionally emphasizes repentance and rehabilitation.

An appeal would first go before the bishop, and then to the Vatican.

Cramer was indicted in 1985 for improperly touching two young brothers. He was counseling the family as it went through a divorce.

In a plea bargain, Cramer pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and was sentenced to three years of probation. He admitted ondling the children while playfully wrestling with them in the boys' home.

He left parish work. But in 1991, he began working with the hospital, with the approval of Rodimer.

 
 

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