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  Priest Is the Focus of DYFS Inquiry

By Joe Tyrrell
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
May 22, 2003

Following the lead of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, the state Division of Youth and Family Services has opened an investigation of a popular parish priest in Edison for "inappropriate communications" with a minor.

The Rev. George Farrell, 42, "has voluntarily entered a supervised living facility" away from his parish, St. Matthew the Apostle, while DYFS examines the evidence, said Ronald C. Rak, general secretary for the Diocese of Metuchen.

On Monday, the prosecutor's office announced it had ended a yearlong investigation of 29 priests, monks and church employees in the diocese and would not file criminal charges. But Assistant Prosecutor Julie McClure said that in some cases, the office lacked jurisdiction or the statute of limitations had expired.

Farrell is the latest of four priests, including Monsignor Michael Cashman of Woodbridge, who have taken voluntary leaves of absence because of allegations of impropriety, said diocesan spokeswoman Joanne Ward.

Three of the cases are being handled by the Diocesan Review Board, a panel of psychiatrists, psychologists, clergy, law enforcement officers, lay people and abuse survivors who advise Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski. Those priests, who have not been named by the diocese, had previously taken leaves of absence, Ward said.

Farrell's case "is the only one that's been referred to another civil authority" for further investigation, Ward said. The diocese took that step this week "after consultation with the prosecutor's office," she said.

In a letter circulated to parishioners, Bootkoski said, "there are no indications that Father George (Farrell) had inappropriate physical contact with a minor." The bishop withheld details "so as not to impede the investigation."

"This was not even a one-on-one situation," Rak said, because the minor "was not present" when Farrell sent messages.

DYFS will refer the case to its institutional abuse investigation unit, agency spokesman Joe Delmar said.

"Our findings would be confidential, they would be shared with the archdiocese and it would be up to them to take appropriate disciplinary action," he said.

The diocese is also notifying other parishes where Farrell has worked since he was ordained in 1996, Rak said. Those churches also were contacted as part of the prosecutor's investigation, he said, but added that he is unsure whether the prosecutor's office also called schools and other places he worked prior to being ordained.

A native of Philadelphia, Farrell entered the Brothers of Charity in 1980. The monastic order, founded in Belgium in 1807, provides services to the poor, elderly, children, sick and persons with disabilities.

After studying in Rome and teaching in Philadelphia, Farrell became a religion teacher at St. Pius X Regional High School in Piscataway in 1987. When that school closed in 1990, he moved to St. Peter's High School in New Brunswick, where he taught religion and served as campus minister.

He joined the adult choir at St. Matthew the Apostle and was involved in music programs at other churches in central New Jersey, including Queen of Angels in Edison and Our Lady of Victories in Sayreville. In 1992, Farrell entered the seminary, and was ordained in Metuchen.

Counseling and other services are available to parishioners at St. Matthew and at the other parishes as needed, Rak said.

The diocese is working "under the guidance" of the Rev. James McLaughlin, recently named administrator of St. Matthew, Rak said. Since McLaughlin, a former teacher, has not previously been a pastor, diocesan policy requires he be administrator for a year before assuming that title, Rak said.

 
 

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