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  Priest Admits Wife-Beating, Child Abuse

By Margaret McHugh
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
February 10, 2006

A married Roman Catholic priest faces up to six months in jail after admitting that he severely beat his wife twice and that while drunk he fondled a boy on several occasions.

The Rev. William Winston, 52, who was pastor of St. Virgil's Roman Catholic Parish in Morris Township, was ordered to have no contact with any children or his family.

The child abuse charge was added after a now-11-year-old boy reported that Winston had touched him several times between February 1999 and February 2002, Assistant Morris County Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood said.

Winston, an admitted alcoholic, told Superior Court Judge N. Peter Conforti that he could not refute the allegations. He also admitted beating his wife in May and November 2004, pushing her to the ground where he continued to kick and punch her.

The plea deal requires Winston to apologize at his April 7 sentencing.

"I wanted to make sure his wife and children heard it in public," Assistant Prosecutor Karin Kelly-Weisert said.

"I'm very desirous of doing that," Winston told Conforti. His wife was not in the Morristown courtroom to hear his admissions yesterday.

The former Episcopal priest is among only 120 or so married Catholic priests in the United States. While the Catholic Church does not allow priests to marry, married priests from other religions who convert to Catholicism may stay married.

The plea deal calls for Winston to do 300 hours of community service and spend up to five years on probation. There were more allegations of child abuse for which Winston won't be prosecuted, Calderwood said.

"There will be other consequences for Father Bill Winston," said Marianna Thompson, spoke-woman for the Paterson Diocese.

Winston will have to leave Assumption Church in Morristown, where he has been living since his arrest in November 2004, Thompson said. Winston had been a priest at Assumption before he was pastor at St. Virgil's.

"He will reside in seclusion until further instruction from the Holy See (the Vatican)," Thompson said. He still receives a stipend, she noted.

Thompson explained that the Dallas Charter, adopted by U.S. bishops in response to the priest sex abuse scandal, would kick in because of Winston's admission in court. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People permanently bars from ministry any priest credibly accused of sex abuse.

Winston pleaded guilty to child abuse, not a sex offense, but Thompson said the case would still be presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which would decide Winston's professional fate.

Defense attorney Michael Ascher said the demands of caring for a congregation and a family were too much for Winston.

"He fell short because of his dependence on alcohol and his inability to deal with it," Ascher said. "It's a tragedy on multiple levels."

Ascher intends to ask Conforti not to give jail time to Winston, who is looking for a job.

 
 

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