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  Diocese Rules Clifton Priest Did Not Sexually Abuse Boy

By Brian Donohue
Star-Ledger
November 15, 2002

A Clifton priest suspended in July amid allegations that he sexually abused a minor has been cleared and reinstated, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson.

The Rev. Thomas G. Rainforth will return immediately to his post as assistant pastor at St. Philip the Apostle Church, according to a statement from Bishop Frank Rodimer.

Rainforth was accused of fondling an adolescent boy on one occasion at the priest's lake house in Sussex County in 1975.

Rainforth voluntarily went on administrative leave after an attorney representing the alleged victim, who is now in his mid-40s, contacted the diocese. Church officials said they had received no previous complaints about Rainforth.

A diocese review board, composed of five lay persons, one victim of abuse and two priests, unanimously concluded two weeks ago that the allegations did not meet the church's definition of sexual abuse.

The decision on Rainforth came after the panel heard testimony from the alleged victim. Rainforth did not appear before the review board, Rodimer said.

Diocese officials would not comment on the details of the accusation.

Ken Mullaney, attorney for the diocese, said the board based their decision on the testimony of the accuser. While they found no reason to dispute his statements, the allegations he made did not rise to the level of sexual abuse, Mullaney said.

"They said that assuming that everything this man said was 100 percent true, what he described happened to him was not sexual abuse," Mullaney said.

Gregory Gianforcaro, the accuser's attorney, disputed the board's interpretation and said he was considering filing a lawsuit. He added he had been maintaining a "dialogue" with the diocese regarding the case.

The definition of sexual abuse was established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their convention in Dallas in June.

It defines as sexual abuse any action by which a priest gratifies himself sexually, regardless of whether it involves force, physical contact or whether any harm to the child is apparent. It was criticized by many priests who consider it too broad.

Prosecutors determined the charge was too old to be investigated.

The diocese's review board is examining allegations against at least three other priests who have also been suspended until their cases are completed. Mullaney, who provides legal advice but does not sit on the board, said no other cases would be finalized in the near future.

 
 

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