A Vanishing Priest, a Wall of Secrecy and a 25-Year-Old Abuse Case

The New York Times

January 30, 2021

By Jenn Morson

Religious orders have their own hierarchies, so they have their own ways of handling abuse allegations.

Thirty-odd years ago, 8-year-old Timothy Schlenz spent every Saturday being tutored on the sacraments at a Manhattan church. It was there, he said, that he was regularly abused.

Every weekend, his family would drive into the city from New Jersey so that Timothy, who is now 39, could study at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, on the Upper East Side. The priest who tutored him, the Rev. Carleton P. Jones, slowly groomed the boy and eventually molested him, telling him it was a way to check for cancer, according to Mr. Schlenz.

Only years later did Mr. Schlenz come to understand that Father Jones had abused him. He wanted to press charges, though by then the statute of limitations had passed. But the New York State Child Victims Act, which allows for victims to file civil lawsuits against their abusers regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred, has given Mr. Schlenz a chance to make his case.

In August 2019, he initiated a legal action against Father Jones and the Dominican Friars Province of Saint Joseph. But the religious order had already exonerated Father Jones following its own internal investigation just two months earlier.

A complicating factor here is that Father Jones does not report to the Archdiocese of New York, which has been part of the Roman Catholic Church’s effort to make reporting and investigating clergy abuse more transparent. He is an order priest, which means that the Dominicans — not the Archdiocese of New York — were responsible for initially investigating Father Jones in late 2018, following a tip from another Dominican priest whom Mr. Schlenz had confided in.

But orders have their own ways, often private and murky, of doing things. So, after the Dominicans cleared Father Jones, and before the Child Victims Act case was filed against him, he disappeared.

Mr. Schlenz’s case entered its discovery phase last fall. Joseph D’Avanzo, Father Jones’s lawyer, denied all of the allegations and refused to discuss the priest’s whereabouts. Multiple requests to speak with leaders of the order have been rebuffed. But in an email this month, the vicar for child protection of the Dominicans, the Rev. Albert Duggan, responded to a request from The Times. “Because this involves a matter in litigation, the province is not able to make any comment at this time,” he wrote.

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