on Bishop Paul Bootkoski
Opinion: Metuchen Diocese a Model against Priest Abuse
By Rev. James Scahill
East Longmeadow, MA -- The Catholic Church must be challenged from within. The unhealthy paradigm that has put our children in harm's way must be confronted. Whither the institution that often values blind obedience above the basic tenets of moral right and wrong, while holding itself accountable to no one?
As many in the Catholic hierarchy strain to make the simple seem so complicated, the Diocese of Metuchen (N.J.) has stepped out of this unhealthy paradigm and dealt with the issue of sexual abuse of children without equivocation. Led by Bishop Paul Bootkoski, the diocese's words and actions have not been dictated by legal strategy but, rather, by three guiding principles: morality, truth and justice.
Catholics nationwide react with incredulity as dioceses wage absurd and demeaning First Amendment battles, asking courts to immunize them from fundamental issues of accountability for bad acts. By contrast, honoring the precept that the Catholic Church should at the very least be accountable to laws protecting children, the Metuchen Diocese has settled 10 claims of sexual abuse, 8 of which fell outside the civil statute of limitations. And Bishop Bootkoski has met privately with each victim to offer his apologies.
Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, Bishop Bootkoski has reorganized his leadership team, appointing a lay person to one of the diocese's three leadership positions and expanding the diocesan review board to include three victims of abuse.
Working with prosecutors within the diocese, officials have scoured files, turning over any allegations of abuse. At this bishop's request, prosecutors have spoken to priests about sexual abuse, and regularly lecture at diocesan schools.
Elsewhere, though, the church hierarchy hides behind the cloak of canon law to justify ongoing support of child molesters -- shaping the law to fit its needs, while ignoring canons that prove contrary to those insular needs. It seems that canon law has been put above the very Ten Commandments.
Bishop Bootkoski has made it clear that he is prepared to petition the Vatican to waive any statute of limitations protecting abusive priests under canon law. Yet many other dioceses, rather than joining in this effort, justify the financial support of molesting priests as the "charitable" thing to do.
There's no charity here! Charity is reaching into your own pocket to help others. The Catholic hierarchy is reaching into the pockets of the laity -- a more appropriate term would be "misuse of funds."
Many in the Catholic laity continue to be more than willing to cede to the church's sense of entitlement to both their money and the power that's derived from that money. Doing what's right for the social institution that is the Catholic Church is not analogous to doing the right thing. The movement of the soul that Jesus created and nurtured is now at odds with the very institution that grew out of that movement.
The church hierarchy uses the term "removed from active ministry" in an attempt to reassure concerned citizens, and to justify continued payments to these abusive priests. Let's be clear: This involves a predatory crime committed by men who, according to most of the medical community, suffer from an incurable disorder. Unless the church intends to place a monitoring device on each of these offenders and keep them under surveillance 24 hours a day, there is no way anyone should feel reassured.
The Rev. Paul Shanley, of Boston, is released on bail, and rightly all are concerned; yet there are hundreds just like Shanley who are roaming free, carrying the title Father and being paid by their dioceses. Should we be more afraid of Father Shanley or of the hundreds of others we know nothing of?
"Something is manifestly wrong when the forgiveness that is possible for all repentant sinners is confused with restoring the sinner to a public trust," notes George Weigel, in a Dec. 17 article in the Los Angeles Times.
While the Diocese of Metuchen is to be commended for its active moral stance, it's important to remember that this diocese is merely doing the right thing! This should be the rule, not the exception.
As the money and support continue to erode, the Catholic hierarchy will eventually be forced to do the right thing -- tragically, for all the wrong reasons.
[The Rev. James Scahill, a Roman Catholic priest, is pastor of St. Michael's Church, in East Longmeadow, Mass.]
http://snapnetwork.org/snap_statements/062003_model_bishop.htm - 9k - 27 Jun 2003
St. Louis, MO - At a press conference today, Mark Serrano, Board Member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (www.snapnetwork.org), made the following statement:
"It has been one year since Catholic Bishops set a new standard for their own approach to protecting children and supporting clergy sexual abuse victims in our journey of healing.
“In our search for a leader among the bishops, the standard has been very low.
“We have been in search of a voice. We have been in search of a seat at the table to protect children and assist victims. We have been in search of bishops who would support prosecutors in their efforts to make sexual predators in the priesthood accountable under the criminal law. We have been in search of bishops who will not fight victims in the courtroom, but will aid in their healing by ending the fight. We have been in search of moral leaders.
“Sadly we have seen few signs of bishops living up to their commitments from Dallas one year ago. In fact we have seen more signs of bishops violating both the letter and spirit of the church law to protect children and support victims.
“Nonetheless, we are here today to acknowledge that there is a bishop in America who is willing to apply common sense solutions to this crisis in the church.
“Since one year ago in Dallas, this bishop has served as the model bishop in America for supporting clergy sexual abuse victims. This bishop stands in contrast among bishops across the country, and even the bishops in his own state of New Jersey, where victims do not have a safe place to turn for help in most of the dioceses.
“Though there is more work to be done in his diocese, we have the opportunity for an ongoing dialogue with this bishop and a seat at his table for further improvements.
“This bishop is Paul Bootkoski from the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.
“In this time Bishop Bootkoski has:
“We want to thank Bishop Paul Bootkoski for his leadership, for setting the right example for his brother bishops, and for being the model bishop in America.
“We hope that one year from now we can identify hundreds of bishops who have decided to accept a change in attitude, a change in heart, and a change in compassion for those who have been sexually abused by priests and others in the church.
“We hope that Catholic Bishops will follow Bishop Bootkoski's lead and allow the healing to begin.”
[SNAP is the leading self-help support group in the nation for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, with over 4,500 members across America.]
By David O'Reilly
The jury was still out, deliberating felony sex-abuse charges against the Rev. John Banko, when his anxious victim got a phone call at the Hunterdon County Courthouse.
On the line was Bishop Paul Bootkoski, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., and bishop to both Banko and the former altar boy the priest had assaulted in 1994.
"I just want to say," Bootkoski told the young man, "that I'm sorry. I'm praying for you, and I'm praying for a conviction."
The next day, Dec. 11, the jury found Banko guilty. And victims of clergy sexual abuse found a hero in Bootkoski.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the leading national support and advocacy group for victims, named Bootkoski its "model bishop" earlier this month for his handling of clergy sexual abuse.
Among the actions and policies SNAP praised:
"Our role is to lead according to gospel principles of justice, compassion [and] consoling" Bootkoski said in an interview Friday.
Bootkoski, 63, is a stocky man with white hair known as "Bishop Paul." He was a pastor, vicar to priests, vicar general and, ultimately, administrator of the Archdiocese of Newark before becoming bishop of the 500,000-member Metuchen Diocese in March 2002 - just as the abuse scandal was exploding nationwide.
"I decided that protecting children would be my priority" because of the intense national concern, he said.
His new, three-person administration team included two priests and one member of the laity: Ronald Rak, secretary for administrative and legal services.
The bishop "charged me to reach out to prosecutors in all four counties," Rak said last week, and in July, he and they created the protocol pledging the diocese to report any suspicion of abuse to civil authorities.
"History has shown that we [dioceses] are not the best equipped to investigate" such matters, said Rak, a lawyer.
The diocese, which comprises 108 parishes in Middlesex, Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren Counies, has reported about 32 allegations, according to Rak.
Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor Dawn M. Solari, who led the state's case against Banko, later praised the diocese for providing documents and personnel files that led to his conviction on first-degree sexual-assault charges.
The diocese informed her office about another Banko victim, who testified against him. And Bootkoski ordered Banko not to wear clerical garb at the trial.
She said Friday that she knew of New Jersey prosecutors elsewhere "who are having a difficult time" with dioceses' not abiding by the state's reporting rules on sexual abuse.
According to SNAP, many bishops are failing to abide "by the spirit and letter" of the vaunted Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that they adopted at a meeting in Dallas a year ago.
John Salveson, president of the Philadelphia-area chapter of SNAP, said last week that he felt the Philadelphia Archdiocese had been "compliant but not compassionate" in its treatment of abuse victims.
Mark Serrano, SNAP's mid-Atlantic director, said Friday that the Diocese of Camden had engaged in "hairsplitting and legalisms" in a protracted lawsuit filed by multiple victims, so much that the judge voiced surprise at the diocese's harsh legal tactics.
Bootkoski declined to comment on how other dioceses had handled sexual abuse, but said he thought it was "very important to settle these cases" in a way that "releases the victims from the burden of guilt."
After the Metuchen Diocese settled in January with the 10 plaintiffs, Bootkoski said, he invited them to the chancery, where he apologized for all they had suffered.
"It was very moving," he recalled.
"Afterward, three of them went directly to the chapel to pray. It was the first time they'd been to church in 10 years."
By Jeff Diamant
http://snapnetwork.org/news/otherstates/nj_exprosecutor_heads_office.htm - 12k - 03 Sep 2003
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen has hired the former lead investigator for Middlesex County's sex crimes unit to investigate claims of child sexual abuse by church officials.
As head of the diocese's newly created Office of Child and Youth Protection, Lawrence Nagle of South Amboy will focus on child protection issues, said Ron Rak, the diocese's general secretary.
The office was created in response to the nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since January 2002.
Nagle, a Roman Catholic, worked for the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for 28 years until he retired last month. The 50-year-old Nagle spent the past three years working in the sex crimes unit, where he also investigated child abuse and domestic violence cases.
"Protecting the members of our diocese from sexual crimes has been, and continues to be, my highest priority," Bishop Paul Bootkoski said yesterday in announcing Nagle's appointment. "The Office of Child and Youth Protection will bring together under the leadership of one individual many of our initiatives to address the problem.
"Lieutenant Nagle has worked with us over the past year in his capacity as supervisor of sex crime units at the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. I am very pleased that he has agreed to join our diocesan family and work with us in combating and preventing sexual abuse," Bootkoski said in a statement.
In his new position, Nagle will be a "first responder" of sorts for the church, hearing and investigating allegations against church personnel in the Metuchen Diocese, which serves 522,000 Catholics in Middlesex, Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset counties. He also will help implement programs to prevent abuse and assist church officials in disciplinary proceedings against clergy accused of sexual abuse.
A graduate of Sayreville War Memorial High School, Nagle began working in county law enforcement in 1975, mainly investigating homicides. After moving to the sex crimes unit, he worked with Bootkoski on issues stemming from the clergy sex scandal.
"I feel strongly connected to this issue," Nagle said yesterday, his first day on the job. "I've met victims, I've seen victims, and I've seen the pain in the victims' eyes. I know how committed the bishop is to this initiative and how strongly he feels about protecting children and youth and families."
Having a former detective working within the diocese will help convince clergy sex abuse victims that the diocese takes their allegations seriously, Rak said.
"People may feel more comfortable going to someone who spent years investigating these claims, someone who came from the outside, who until recently was a member of law enforcement," Rak said.
Mark Serrano, a national spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the main victims group, hailed Nagle's hiring. He said he knew of no other diocese in the United States that has hired a former law enforcement officer full time to investigate sex abuse.
"The presence of former law enforcement officials, particularly ... a specially trained officer, is very, very important and should replicated in dioceses across the country," Serrano said.
At the same time, Serrano said, Nagle's presence does not mean the diocese can stop reporting allegations to prosecutors.
"Lieutenant Nagle should remember going into this job that there is no substitute for law enforcement in clergy abuse matters," he said. "Neither bishops nor other church officials or former law enforcement officials take the place of law enforcers."
Nagle's appointment is the diocese's latest response to the clergy sex abuse scandal. Victims groups that have accused most bishops of bad judgment or improper behavior have praised Bootkoski, saying he has responded with compassion and openness.
Since the scandal broke, the Metuchen Diocese has deemed accusations against five priests credible, Rak said. All five voluntarily left ministry when faced with the allegations. Among the five is the Rev. John M. Banko, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison earlier this year after his conviction for molesting an 11-year-old altar boy.
In May, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office announced it would not bring charges against 29 accused priests, monks and church employees accused over the years of sexually abusing children. Officials cited several factors in their decision, including expired statutes of limitations and the fact that some alleged victims did not want to file charges.
Late last year, Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent, was hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to head its national Office of Youth and Child Protection.
[Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Home News (NJ) Tribune
The scandal over sexual abuse in the priesthood has done more to damage the trust of Catholics in church hierarchy than anything else in recent history, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said on Monday. Bishop Wilton Gregory, speaking in Washington, D.C., also apologized for the failure of some bishops to adequately protect their flocks.
Closer to home, Catholics are witnessing a more encouraging story.
Perhaps no bishop in the nation has been more steadfast or aggressive in the daunting pursuit of restoring the trust of Catholics in their religious leaders than Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of the Diocese of Metuchen. The 500,000 Catholics in Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties are seeing one sign after another that what can be done is being done to find and prevent sexual abuse by anyone who works for or represents the diocese, even in a volunteer capacity.
Last week, the diocese began fingerprinting and criminal-background checks of all its priests and deacons, a welcome safeguard. Bootkoski was among the first to submit to the test, a clear signal to clergy and parishioners that no one can or should be above scrutiny. Under his lead, the diocese also will extend the checks to every diocese volunteer or employee who works with children. Vendors hired by the diocese who come in contact with children must comply with the rule as well.
Critics might say that the checks are nothing more than a follow-up to a national policy adopted last year by the conference of bishops. But the Metuchen diocese is one of the first to act on the new rules. Bootkoski is to be applauded for vigorous implementation.
It is true that background checks will only catch abusers whose crimes have been reported and prosecuted. But it is also is true that Bootkoski has opened all files on accusations of pedophilia in order to tag anyone who may have a history of abuse who did not get reported to police, something the church still must do as a whole.
There's more. Earlier this year, Bootkoski created an Office of Child and Youth Protection. Its director, Larry Nagle, is the former head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office -- the sort of expertise that should reassure area Catholics the diocese is unswerving in its commitment to stamp out sexual abuse.
Since the turmoil in the church began two years ago, five priests in the Diocese of Metuchen have been removed from their duties because of abuse charges. In response, the diocese has taken the crucial initial strides in detecting and prosecuting abuse, and ultimately preventing the scourge.
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