DIOCESE OF PATERSON NJ
By Jeff Diamant
Allegations from 56 people against 30 priests and one deacon were deemed credible, the diocese reported in today's edition of the Beacon, its weekly newspaper. In all, 71 accusations were lodged from 1950 to 2002 against 39 of the 737 priests in the diocese, which serves Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.
The highest number of incidents allegedly occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when 47 accusers came forward, the diocese said.
The Diocese of Metuchen also offered a glimpse of its own history of sex abuse. In today's edition of its newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, the diocese said that from 1950 to 2002, 1 percent of its 990 clergy and seminarians were credibly accused of sexual abuse involving minors, and that the diocese paid $795,000 in settlements, legal and medical fees.
The Metuchen Diocese was created in 1981, but its figures include accusations from parishioners at churches that were at the time part of the Trenton Diocese. Those churches are now within Metuchen's boundaries of Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties.
Paterson and Metuchen are the first two New Jersey dioceses to make public the results of their historic investigations into sex abuse by clergy.
The internal surveys are part of the Catholic Church's effort to disclose the national scope and cost of sex abuse by priests in the wake of a scandal in which bishops were accused of covering up the magnitude of the problem.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops next week is expected to release a national report containing figures from most of the 195 dioceses in the United States.
Reaction to the figures released yesterday was split. Some said the disclosures are an unprecedented moment for an otherwise secretive church and are in the repentant spirit of Lent, which begins Wednesday.
"We priests know that much more is expected of us since the Lord has given us such a high calling," Paterson Bishop Frank Rodimer wrote in his column in the Beacon.
Rodimer, who has faced criticism for his handling of abusive priests, said that although the figures are disturbing, their release is "in the interest of openness and accountability, of identifying the extent of the problem, and of obtaining information that will help us in making sure that it will not reoccur in the future."
Members of a group representing the accusers, however, said Rodimer did not go far enough in his report. They said he should have followed the lead of bishops in Los Angeles and Baltimore and published the names of priests accused and not just numbers. In the past two years, the Paterson Diocese has released the names of priests accused of abuse.
"The people who allowed these numbers to materialize are the same people in charge now, and they're not doing what they can to prevent sex abuse," said Buddy Cotton, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. "These numbers are historically significant, and they're ghastly and gruesome."
Others said it is unlikely the figures represent every incident of abuse that occurred in the diocese over the past 50 years.
"Like with any crime, there are unreported incidents," said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese. "I think that in the last two years especially, victims groups and the dioceses have encouraged people to come forward ... but there are people who find it very, very difficult to come forward."
The Paterson Diocese includes the New Jersey church that apparently has seen the most allegations -- St. Joseph's in Mendham, from which more than 15 people accused the former Rev. James Hanley of abusing them.
Hanley was the only priest named in yesterday's report, which said he faced 17 accusations that accounted for the bulk of the 25 made throughout the diocese from the 1970s.
Hanley's case has shamed diocesan officials, who have said they did not learn of the pastor's misdeeds until 1985, when a young parishioner and his parents made the initial accusation. Church officials, however, did not notify law enforcement at that time.
No criminal charges were filed against Hanley because the statute of limitations had expired by the time diocese officials reported the alleged abuse to authorities many years later.
The diocese forced Hanley to retire in 1988, but it was not until last year, after mounting pressure from victims, that Hanley was removed from the priesthood. Rodimer, who was bishop at the time, has acknowledged he underestimated the seriousness of the allegations until it was too late to prosecute.
Rodimer also has said Hanley has admitted to abuse.
In his column, Rodimer said he never meant to protect abusers, "and if I have done so, or even seem to anyone to have done so, I deeply regret it and apologize."
Earlier this week, CNN, based on a draft copy of the national figures, reported that more than 11,000 people have accused 4,450 priests of sexual abuse since 1950. Researchers conducting the survey, however, later said CNN's report was based on an incomplete version of the survey.
It was unclear how the percentage of Paterson priests credibly accused, 4.2 percent, will compare with the national figure.
Although the national survey will include just aggregate numbers, many dioceses, as Paterson did yesterday, are releasing their own numbers.
In the Metuchen Diocese, a letter from Bishop Paul Bootkoski, with more detailed figures on the diocese's history of sex abuse, will be read at Masses this weekend. The Newark Archdiocese plans to release its numbers Feb. 26.
The national survey was a provision of the Dallas Charter that bishops adopted in 2002 to try to reduce clergy sex abuse after a scandal implicated many of them for protecting abusive priests from law enforcement or for moving problem priests to other parishes.
A study released last month said 90 percent of the Roman Catholic dioceses in America -- including all five in New Jersey -- have complied with the charter, which also calls for better investigations of abuse claims and zero-tolerance policies for abusive clergy.
Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-1547.
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