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  Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Priest Had Served in Paterson, Clifton

By John Chadwick
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
December 4, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson has settled a lawsuit brought by a former Fair Lawn resident who said he was molested more than 100 times by a priest, the plaintiff's attorney said Wednesday.

The suit, which was filed in state Superior Court in Paterson in July, accused the Rev. James A.D. Smith of luring a 12-year-old boy into a sexual relationship that lasted for four years in the 1960s. It accuses Smith of abusing the boy while serving at Our Lady of Victories Church in Paterson and Sacred Heart Church in Clifton.

The suit also claimed church leaders who knew about the abuse did nothing to stop Smith. The court documents specifically cited Bishop Frank Rodimer, who at the time was a midlevel administrator in the diocese.

The diocese agreed to pay a monetary settlement that was kept confidential at the plaintiff's request.

As a condition of the settlement, the diocese admitted no wrongdoing.

A lawyer for the plaintiff said his client was pleased.

"What was important to him from the beginning was to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," said Gregg Shivers of Cherry Hill. "He is glad the church recognizes it has a responsibility to victims like him."

The accuser now lives in California. The Record's policy is to protect the identities of victims of sexual abuse.

As in many other recent cases, he came forward last year after decades of silence, emboldened by the national church crisis that exploded in January 2002.

Smith, who is in his 70s, was placed on leave 15 months ago and is apparently living in a retirement community for priests. His last assignment was as an assistant pastor at St. Therese in Roxbury.

His case is far from over. The diocese is pursuing a disciplinary procedure that all dioceses in the United States are now required to follow.

A board of clergy and laypeople have reviewed the allegations against him, found them credible, and sent the case to Rome for further investigation.

Smith faces removal from the clergy or a life of seclusion in a monastery.

Smith befriended the boy's family and spent many hours alone with the youth under the pretext that he was providing "religious and educational training."

Smith used both physical force and manipulation to continue the relationship and keep the boy compliant, the suit said.

The court documents include a love letter that Smith allegedly wrote when the boy tried to end the relationship.

"I left Sacred Heart for no other reason than that you and I could be together always," the letter said. "That was what you wanted and what I wanted. I have no regrets."

 
 

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