|Victims, Now Men,
Show Ex-Morris Priest No Fear
Former Mendham pastor, admitted molester, engages crowd in Paterson
By Abbott Koloff
[See also a transcript of a news video of the encounter.]
PATERSON -- James T. Hanley, former priest and admitted child molester, walked toward some of his victims with the kind of anger you might expect from a man who has been wronged. Maybe he was trying to be the old Jim Hanley, his voice loud, telling some victims that they were to blame for what happened decades ago when he was pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Mendham.
Some of his victims say that's the way he was when he was a pastor and they were children.
Now, they are men, a little too old to be bullied that way, and they were handing out "child molester alert" fliers on Sunday along McBride Avenue in Paterson, where Hanley recently moved.
Hanley stopped his car and walked toward victims holding a news conference. The man who has admitted molesting children at various parishes apparently didn't like the bad publicity he's been getting over the past few years. He put his face inches from the father of one of his victims.
'You're a liar'
"You're a liar," Hanley, 69, yelled at Lou Serrano of Mendham, whose son Mark was abused by Hanley and has become a victim's advocate.
"You raped my son," Lou Serrano replied.
What was the lie, according to Hanley? That was hard to tell from anything he said on Sunday. He admitted having sexual contact with Mark Serrano, but he said the contact wasn't forced. Mark Serrano simply pointed out that he was 12 years old at the time.
So what was Hanley's point? Hanley said the group of Mendham victims, led by Serrano, had been exaggerating his crimes. He said he did not abuse all the men who have come forward.
"I abused some, but not all,"Hanley said.
Hanley went on to say that he sexually abused about a dozen children -- and that three of his victims never came forward. He never was criminally charged because the statute of limitations ran out by the time his crimes were made public.
The Paterson Roman Catholic Diocese paid $5 million last year to settle a lawsuit claiming that Hanley abused more than two dozen children. Hanley actually gave a statement to support the victims in that lawsuit.
Now, he seemed to be trying to say that he wasn't all that bad.
Hanley, removed from the priesthood three years ago, said he has alcohol problems and is bipolar. He talked about a priest who once berated him when he was 13 and confessed to masturbating. He referred to the experience as "abuse." He said he was sexually abused when he was 18 years old. He stopped short of offering any serious revelations.
"I'm a psychotic, and a psychotic does strange things sometimes," Hanley said.
He specifically denied ever abusing Jim Kelly, a Morristown man who committed suicide more than two years ago. Kelly, according to some of his friends, had said that Hanley fed him beer and showed him pornography in the rectory, and once took him into his bedroom, but he became uncomfortable and ran away.
It never was clear what happened to Jim Kelly in the bedroom. His friends and family have said his suicide may or not be related to abuse. They have said they won't ever know.
'Am I one of them?'
One man asked Hanley on Sunday to acknowledge whether he had been a victim. Who are you, Hanley wanted to know. Pat Kelly, one of Jim Kelly's brothers, responded with his name. Kelly asked Hanley again: "Am I one of them?"
"I did abuse you once, but never Jimmy," Hanley said.
Hanley told Ray Skettini of Vernon that he was his first victim, at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Pequannock more than 30 years ago. He said his last victim was Bill Crane, who now lives in Oregon.
Hanley said he loved Crane like a son, that he knew for the first time he was doing something wrong when he tried to fondle Crane in 1981 and the teenager pushed him away and ran out of the bedroom. Hanley said that is what stopped him from molesting any more children.
Crane, 40, who now lives in Oregon, remembers a 1981 summer night at Hanley's Shore house. He remembers other St. Joseph's parishioners, including some adults, grilling steaks with the pastor and having a great time.
Crane, then 15, was going fishing with Hanley the next day. He went to sleep early and said he was awakened by Hanley groping him. Crane said he had been undressed in his sleep. He said he pushed Hanley away that time, pulled on his shorts, and ran outside. He said everything changed after that. There were no more beer and porn parties in the rectory. He said Hanley had a way of giving him looks, without saying anything, that exerted power.
"This guy was abusing us, and he was able to intimidate us into believing it was our fault," Crane said on Sunday in a telephone interview.
Crane went to see Hanley a couple of months later at the St. Joseph's rectory. He said the priest was sitting in his boxer shorts in the dark, with alcohol on his breath. Hanley embraced him, he said, and told him that he was leaving the parish.
Crane said the priest made it seem that the children of St. Joseph's somehow were to blame. Crane said he got a letter from Hanley a couple of years later, when he graduated from high school, that told him never to say a word about the secret things that happened in the St. Joseph's rectory. Hanley said they would both get into trouble, Crane said, and concluded by asking him to destroy the letter.
Crane did what the priest wanted, a testament to the power that Hanley had over some of the young people of St. Joseph's.
Hanley raised his voice on Sunday, perhaps trying to get back some of that power. He demanded that Lou Serrano, a retired police officer, look him in the eye. He walked up to Lou Serrano's wife, Pat, in a way that seemed physically intimidating. Lou Serrano warned him not to go too far.
Hanley said he wanted his victims to know the abuse wasn't their fault. Then he tried to tell Mark Serrano that it was his fault. The former priest said his victims deserve answers, and that is why he approached them on Sunday. He told Skettini he was sorry for what happened. But he wasn't offering apologies to all of his victims. He wasn't offering real answers. His victims said he had come to them with excuses.
"If you're really saying you're sorry to me, this wasn't a good way to show it," Skettini said.
Mark Serrano said the confrontation had been "empowering" because he no longer was the "little kid" controlled by Hanley. He said the dynamic of power had changed. He and other victims passed out fliers and talked to Hanley's new neighbors. The former priest said he moved back to the neighborhood of his youth after living in a senior apartment where he was cramped for space. He said he is living in poverty, collecting $2,100 a month from the Paterson Diocese. Church officials have said he collects a pension. Hanley referred to it as a stipend and said it is about $1,000 less than other priests receive. He was asked how he was able to afford what appeared to be a new Toyota Camry.
"I have an IRA," he said.
Hanley had said in a sworn statement that when he admitted his crimes to Bishop Frank Rodimer, the former head of the Paterson Diocese, he was told not to worry. He was told that he wasn't the only priest accused of such crimes. Rodimer has acknowledged allowing Hanley to work almost another year at a parish in Wayne after Mark Serrano came forward with his allegations in 1985. The bishop has acknowledged later sending Hanley to work at a hospital in Albany, N.Y. Hanley said on Sunday that he also worked for a time on a banana farm in St. Lucia. He said he left Albany, where he said he worked with AIDS patients and records show he also performed baptisms, after he suffered strokes and collapsed on the altar.
He said he's been in a haze for years, that he's come out of it now after his medication was changed. He wasn't denying that he abused children, but he did seem upset about the way he's been portrayed. He said a victim's advocate Web site that claims to show him entering a church school in Paterson is wrong. He said he was going into the church. He acknowledged some of his victims on Sunday but was defiant toward others. Mark Serrano told him that he was not exactly repenting.
"Should I kneel?" Hanley said, and started to get down on one knee.
Serrano told him that was offensive, and as Hanley walked away someone who had been handed one of the community notification fliers drove by and yelled that the former priest should die.
Hanley said he could handle that. As he drove off in his car, with a flier stuck on his windshield, he did not look like he found a way to control the situation. He had come off as an angry man in denial. Kelly said he once felt a little sorry for Hanley but the former priest had just convinced him that his sympathy was misplaced.
Abbott Koloff can be reached at (973) 989-0652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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