Victims Share Pain, Anger in Mendham

By Abbott Koloff
Daily Record
April 21, 2002

MENDHAM - Bill Crane said he wanted to get as far away as possible, so he moved to Oregon, where he now lives with his wife and two children. His parents wanted to know the reason.

He finally told them, almost 10 years ago, that he'd been molested as a boy by the former pastor of the Church of St. Joseph, James T. Hanley.

Crane, 36, came back to Mendham on Saturday for a meeting of men who claim Hanley molested them when they were boys. About three dozen people, including the men's families, packed into a couple of rooms at the Black Horse Inn to tell their stories.

Some were witnesses to the lifestyle of the rectory at the time. Some were parents. Some said they had been molested by other priests and wanted to be part of a meeting that many in attendance said would be therapeutic.

Mark Serrano, 38, who organized the meeting, said that six people in attendance claimed to have been molested by Hanley.

They had similar recollections of Hanley as a man who told off-color jokes, played the piano, took boys on overnight fishing trips to Long Island, showed them pornography in the rectory and allowed them to take beer from his refrigerator.

They remembered Hanley hugging children at the St. Joseph School, saying that he often sat in a reclining chair with a boy on his lap. Some of them said that Hanley told them that he loved them.

Serrano, who was given $350,000 by the Paterson Catholic Diocese in a lawsuit settlement in 1987, had made his story public last month. He said he's received calls from other people who claim they were molested by Hanley or other priests.

Hanley no longer is allowed to function as a priest, Paterson Diocese officials have said. They acknowledge that Hanley worked at a Wayne parish 10 months after they first learned of the allegations in the spring of 1985.

Serrano said he hoped that Saturday's meeting would help make it easier for others molested by Hanley, or other priests, to come forward. He called on Catholic priests to be more outspoken about a national scandal fueled by revelations that some priests accused of pedophilia were moved from one parish to another instead of being turned over to authorities.

"I want to hear their moral indignation," Serrano said.

Dave Clohessy, director of a national group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, talked to the gathering early in the morning and expressed a similar sentiment.

"I long to hear the day when a priest stands up and says that these people are heroes," he said, referring to victims who have come forward.

Serrano claims that Hanley molested him between 1974 and 1981, starting when he was 9 years old. He said that he used to knock on the back door of the rectory and was let in by a housekeeper. He said that he was not allowed to go upstairs before yelling, to let Hanley know he was there.

"Sometimes, I would hear nothing," Serrano said, adding that he suspects that another boy was with Hanley.

Serrano said that he and another boy once stayed overnight with Hanley at the rectory. He described Hanley as a "field marshal" ordering the two boys to march naked to his bedroom after they had taken a shower together. He also described Hanley as "brazen," saying he once was molested in Hanley's room, with the door partially open, while another priest was in the rectory.

He saved a letter that Hanley wrote to him from California, where the priest was vacationing, in 1982, that contains numerous sexual references. In the letter to Serrano, who was 17 at the time, and another boy, Hanley describes Santa Barbara as a place where people walk around half-naked and are "fornicating in the middle of the streets - you'd love it."

Hanley ended the letter with a warning to "watch out for casual, cheap sex, or else it gets expensive," saying that he enclosed money to be used "for a Heineken's or a pizza some night."

Hanley, who now lives in Paterson, has declined interviews since allegations against him were made public in 1995, and he did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.

The people who attended Saturday's meeting remembered Hanley as a man who always had a lot of money to spring for pizza parties. They said he got close to parents so that he could get close to their children. As a result, when the allegations first became public seven years ago, they said, some people refused to believe them.

"Three parents were outraged that I would have suggested that Hanley did these things," said the Rev. Kenneth Lasch, now the pastor at St. Joseph, who told his parishioners about the allegations in a 1995 meeting.

Some of the people in attendance said Hanley's fishing trips had become famous, and that it was an open secret among children at the Church of St. Joseph that he showed pornographic films in the rectory and gave beer to children. Some people wondered why he spent all his time with young boys.

"The girls were jealous of the attention they were getting," said Chris Serrano, 39, Mark Serrano's sister.

After Lasch went public with the allegations in 1995, another person filed a lawsuit against Hanley. That suit, Lasch said, also was settled out of court.

Crane said that a night at the rectory often began with sports on TV, but that would soon be replaced by a porn movie. He said he once tried to tell a Catholic chaplain in the Navy that he'd been molested by Hanley but was told to remain silent.

"He said that by my speaking out, my sin would be greater than what Hanley did to me," Crane said.

"I was so indoctrinated, I continued to remain silent about it. My trust was in the Church, and we were taught to have trust in God."

Crane also said that Hanley wrote him a letter in 1985, at the time Serrano went to diocese officials, to tell him to stay quiet about what happened in the rectory.

"He instructed me to tear up the letter," Crane said.

"That's what I did. Most of us didn't know this was happening to others. Every one of us feels isolated."

Crane said that began to change when Serrano came forward last month. As a nationwide scandal continued to grow, he found out that his twin brother, Tom, had been keeping a secret.

Tom Crane, who now lives in Seattle, said during Saturday's meeting that Serrano's public disclosures convinced him that it was time for him to say publicly that he'd also been molested by Hanley.

"Where is my faith?" he asked. "Who am I supposed to trust?"

Steve Holenstein, 43, who now lives in Atlanta, said he didn't suffer the same kind of abuse as some of the men in the room. He stayed away from Hanley after spending one night in the rectory, sleeping in the same bed with the priest when he was a teenager.

"He reached into my pants," Holenstein said.

"He told me he always wanted to have a baby brother. I stayed there, but I was afraid to move. He fell asleep, snoring over my shoulder. I knew things had changed."

Until then, he said he considered Hanley a fishing and drinking buddy, a kindly priest who always had a drawer full of pornography to share with children.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.