Priest Doing Social Work Accused of Molesting Teens
By Margaret McHugh
The Star-Ledger [Newark, New Jersey]
December 30, 2004
A Catholic priest the Newark Archdiocese says vanished from its radar more than 10 years ago has been charged with molesting teenage boys at a Morris County drug rehabilitation center where he was a social worker.
Richard J. Mieliwocki, 48, was arrested Tuesday night at his Madison home, charged with three counts each of criminal sexual contact and child endangerment, Morris County Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio said yesterday. He was released from jail early yesterday after posting $50,000 bail.
"This whole thing is just terribly upsetting," said the Rev. Joseph Hennon, director of Daytop Village, a 70-bed rehabilitation program in Mendham.
"In 13 years, there has never been an allegation of staff misconduct," said Hennon, who had not known Mieliwocki also was a priest. Mieliwocki never mentioned it or listed it on his r sum , Hennon said.
Reached at his home yesterday, Mieliwocki declined comment.
Hennon said he fired Mieliwocki on Dec. 8 after a resident reported that Mieliwocki had another teenager remove his shirt during a private counseling session - a violation of the facility's policies. Hennon immediately contacted the prosecutor's office, and in the course of that investigation learned of the more prurient allegations.
According to the arrest affidavit, Mieliwocki fondled two 17-year-old boys and an 18-year-old resident and stripped-searched another 17-year-old boy.
The youths whom Mieliwocki is accused of molesting were all on probation, and Mieliwocki had disciplinary power over them, according to the criminal complaint.
He had two of the boys remove their underwear, and spanked one of them, according to the sworn statement of detective Dan Haber of the prosecutor's office. Mieliwocki asked all four victims about the size of their private parts, and how often they masturbated, the arrest affidavit said.
Hennon was shocked to learn from a reporter yesterday that the State Board of Social Work Examiners had put Mieliwocki on probation for three years in June 1999 for professional misconduct.
"I didn't know anything about that," Hennon said. "If we had known that, we never would have hired him."
While working at Clifton Mental Health Service (now called Clifton Behavioral Health Care) in 1997, Mieliwocki gave a client who had a history of steroid use "an unmarked 35 mm film canister" containing white capsules, according to the consent order putting Mieliwocki on probation.
Mieliwocki told the client the pills were "black market drugs that would both stimulate him sexually and serve to relax him," when in fact they were melatonin pills, the order said. Melatonin is a supplement used to promote sleep.
Mieliwocki continued to work at the Clifton facility until February 2000. He then was hired by Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen to work at Cedar House, a group home for troubled youths in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards Township.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese, said Mieliwocki requested a six-month leave of absence in February 1994 while a priest at the Church of St. Joseph the Carpenter in Roselle.
"He never came back to take on another assignment, so we had no idea of his whereabouts," Goodness said. Goodness said he did not know why Mieliwocki, who was ordained in 1972, asked for time off.
However, a 39-year-old Morris County man said he received a $60,000 settlement from the Newark Archdiocese in July 1994 after reporting that Mieliwocki had molested him for several years, beginning in 1988 at Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange.
Goodness said he knew nothing of the settlement and did not have access to records yesterday.
The Rev. Robert Hoatson, chaplain of Catholic Charities in the Newark Archdiocese, has been providing pastoral care to the victim for the last year and said he was aware of the settlement.
Mieliwocki had the man remove his clothes "as part of the therapy," said Hoatson, who has been affiliated with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The victim, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used, said Mieliwocki would massage him and once asked to touch his private parts.
Mieliwocki's probationary period was over by the time he was hired at Daytop in October 2002. Mieliwocki presented a valid social worker license, which he received in 1995, and three letters of recommendation, Hennon said. Daytop staff also made sure he had no criminal record and confirmed Mieliwocki's prior two jobs, he said.
The mother of a 17-year-old alleged victim said she wished the accusations weren't true.
"He is a very nice man. A lovely man. In a way, I hope it's a mistake," she said, describing Mieliwocki as caring and soft-spoken, one of the few people able to connect with her son.
Hennon said, "There was never, ever a hint of a cover-up. Our commitment is totally to the safety of the kids."
The teen's mother agreed, saying, "These kids were made to feel protected by the people running that program."
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