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  Bishop, Others Field Questions on Removal of Borough Priest

By Kara L. Richardson
Courier News (Bridgewater, New Jersey)
July 19, 2005

NORTH PLAINFIELD — St. Joseph parishioners confronted Diocese of Metuchen officials — including Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski — Monday evening about the removal of their priest, Father John "Jack" Casey, after an accusation of clerical sexual misconduct.

The Diocese of Metuchen announced last week that it has removed Casey, 47, as pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in North Plainfield while it looks into the allegations. The accusation involves a charge made by a minor from 18 years ago, when Casey was parochial vicar at St. Peter the Apostle parish in New Brunswick.

The church's acting priest, the Rev. Ed Edwards, began Monday's meeting with the hymn "God of Day and God of Darkness" and a prayer for healing. He opened the service to an hour of questions from the hundreds of people in the pews.

Reaction under scrutiny

Some thought the diocese overreacted, outing Casey for charges that the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office could not move forward with because of their statute of limitations. Others, such as Elizabeth Havrilla, who has six children, said she believes in Casey's innocence but applauded the decision to take the allegation seriously and remove him from the pulpit while the church conducted its own investigation.

"I don't want what happened to Cardinal Law to happen here," Havrilla said about the Boston cardinal who resigned after a sex scandal erupted in his diocese.

Msgr. William Benwell attended the meeting to explain how church law and Casey's investigation works. He likened the phase of Casey's investigation to when a grand jury indicts someone — the feeling is that there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

Jack Rooney, who has known Casey for more than a decade, asked if Casey had legal representation during the process. Rooney's wife, Kathy, was upset about the letter informing parishioners of Casey's temporary departure.

"The tone of the letter was so hurtful," Kathy Rooney said.

In response to the bishop, who at times referred to Casey only by his first name, Paul Wentworth asked, "Is Father Jack still considered a priest? If so, then I would appreciate if you would refer to him as Father Jack."

Gregory Millman criticized the public accusations of Casey, saying, "It seems bishops are responding to previous negligence by overreaction and injustice."

Difficult decisions

Bootkoski said calling Casey in for the investigation the most difficult thing he's done as bishop. Bootkoski said he liked Casey and prayed for him.

"I, as your bishop, have an obligation," Bootkoski said about the 2002 churchwide decision to remove a priest while an investigation is conducted.

Bootkoski spoke frankly about the sex scandals in the Roman Catholic church, saying the incidents in other dioceses left him feeling ashamed when he was in public.

"You did feel dirty, like there was something wrong with you," Bootkoski said. He added that affirmed his connection to serving God and the need to continue to earn respect.

Bootkoski ended the meeting with a prayer.

He then said, "Father Jack is a good man. He's a man, unfortunately, that an accusation came against and we'll deal with it."

 
 

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