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  Clifton Priest Implicated in Mendham Sex Abuse

By Dore Carroll and Jerry Barca
Star-Ledger
July 15, 2002

Parishioners at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Clifton who know the Rev. Thomas G. Rainforth as a leader on family retreats, an organizer of parish picnics and chaplain of the Boy Scouts were aghast yesterday when church officials announced allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Monsignor Peter J. Doody, the parish pastor, said during services that Rainforth was placed on leave because of allegations that he abused a boy while working as an associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Mendham in 1975.

"I am shocked. I feel a little disbelief," said F.J. Sullivan, who has been a parishioner at St. Philip for 44 years. "I'm not saying it didn't happen, but the allegations almost negate the good work he did for 20 years."

Rainforth, 55, who worked at St. Joseph's in the mid-1970s with the Rev. James T. Hanley, the priest accused of molesting at least 12 young parishioners in Mendham, vehemently denies the allegations, said his attorney, Adolph Galluccio.

"It did not occur. It is an untruth, a lie," Galluccio said yesterday. "Just because different people repeat the same lie doesn't make it true."

The charge was contained in a letter from the alleged victim's attorney, Gregory Gianforcaro, given to the Paterson Diocese two weeks ago and forwarded to Passaic County prosecutors. Rainforth voluntarily went on administrative leave on Friday.

"He elected to leave his parish assignment until the matter is investigated by the proper authorities," said Marianna Thompson, spokeswoman for Paterson Bishop Frank Rodimer.

At a packed midday Mass at St. Philip, a parish of 3,000 families where Rainforth has served for four years, Doody asked parishioners to pray for Rainforth.

While the genuine efforts of abuse victims to shed light on the problem must be applauded and supported, Doody said he questioned their zeal. "Have we now come to a time when those victimized are now inflicting the very pain they say they abhor?" said Doody.

Some parishioners doubted the allegations against Rainforth.

"He's very nice and friendly, and always appeared to go out of his way," said Joan Beck, a longtime church member. "I'm sick for the priests, sick for the church. You can't think this is real. We'll just have to wait and see."

Rainforth is accused of fondling an adolescent boy on one occasion at the priest's lake house in Sussex County, according to Gianforcaro, who also represents many of Hanley's alleged victims.

"I've been told Rainforth made alcohol available to many youths," said Gianforcaro, whose client, now in his mid-40s, has a brother among those accusing Hanley of abuse.

Steve Holenstein, a former parishioner at St. Joseph's who spent a lot of time with the alleged victim and other teenage boys at Rainforth's home on Arapaho Lake in Sparta, said the priest often threw parties there.

"We went up there to drink, to swim, to fool around, work on the house," said Holenstein, 43, who now lives in Atlanta. "I remember Father Tom liked to get in your personal space, you know, kind of make you uncomfortable. He would say, 'Let me feel your muscles.'"

Holenstein said the alleged victim acted as Rainforth's "right-hand man," helping him organize Friday night concerts and activities for parish youth.

Diocesan officials were notified of the allegation against Rainforth during a meeting on June 28 with Gianforcaro to discuss allegations against Hanley, and it came as a surprise to them, said Kenneth Mullaney, attorney for the diocese.

"The diocese had no prior knowledge of any sexual impropriety on the part of Father Rainforth," said Mullaney. When diocesan officials gave prosecutors their records of all priests accused of impropriety months ago, Mullaney said, Rainforth's name was not included.

"We have never had a complaint about him," said Thompson, the bishop's spokeswoman.

Church officials said they did not immediately remove Rainforth from St. Philip, as required under a policy adopted by U.S. bishops at a national conference in Dallas last month, because Passaic County prosecutors asked them not to inform priests about allegations against them in case it hindered their investigation.

The latest accusation comes as the Paterson Diocese is reacting to other allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Two former Morris County priests, Ralph Sodano and Allen Stepien, were recently placed on administrative leave while the diocese investigates abuse allegations against them.

 
 

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