Child Molester Gets an Earful
Neighbors confront defrocked priest

By Barbara Williams
Herald News
January 30, 2006

[See a transcript of a news video of the encounter. See also Victims, Now Men, Show Ex-Morris Priest No Fear, by Abbott Koloff, Daily Record (1/30/06).]

Paul Steidler and Mark Serrano weren't sure how or if to notify a neighborhood in Paterson that an admitted child abuser had moved into their midst. In the end, they decided to blanket the area with fliers Sunday morning and inform nearby churches.

But James Hanley, the notorious defrocked priest who was the target of the notification, showed up "to straighten things out" and turned the morning into a heated confrontation with several of his victims and their families. Neighbors, including Alfredo Estevez, were just glad they learned the truth.

"He came to my house for New Year's and spent about three hours with my family. He brought my boys balloons," Estevez said. "Now, he has to get out. The city better make him move."

The father of three boys, ages 10, 6 and 3, Estevez said he had no idea that the elderly man who moved into the blue vinyl-sided house next door in December was "so dangerous. I'm so glad they told us. My boys play outside all the time," Estevez said.

Serrano said that is exactly why alerting residents to Hanley's whereabouts was so important. He pointed out that Hanley had already ingratiated himself to a family in just several weeks, and started "working on befriending the boys with the balloons."

"If Hanley had maintained his anonymity in that neighborhood, those boys would have been Jim Hanley's next victims," Serrano said Sunday evening. "Mr. and Mrs. Estevez would have welcomed a Trojan Horse into their lives."

Serrano and Steidler are members of the group SNAP, Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests. The two men, now in their 40s with families of their own, were Hanley's victims and have loosely kept an eye on Hanley since he was ousted from the priesthood about four years ago.

The defrocked priest had been living quietly in another section of Paterson, but lately his behavior changed, and the two men said they felt they needed to act. He is renting the top floor of a two-family house at 280 McBride Ave.

"We're extremely concerned he's stepping out in the community. He's become a lot more brazen," Steidler said. "Now he's living in a community where there are row houses, with several schools and churches within blocks of his house."

Hanley admitted to molesting 15 boys from 1968 to 1982. But because the statute of limitations expired, he was never charged criminally, and is not listed on any sex offender list.

About 20 members of SNAP and their families and supporters met Sunday at Hayden Heights Memorial Park, only several houses away from where Hanley now lives. They formed a circle, said a prayer and then started to hand out the more than 1,000 fliers they eventually distributed when Hanley showed up in his gray Toyota Camry.

"I thought you might be here," Hanley, wearing a gray turtleneck with a crucifix made out of nails, told the group. "I want to clear up the lies and straighten things out."

But the victims and their family members yelled at him, calling him "sick, a liar and evil." Several times it appeared that the hostility would escalate into violence, but it never did.

Mark Serrano's father, Lou Serrano, standing nose to nose with Hanley, yelled in his face, "You raped my son."

An unidentified woman quickly shouted out "You raped three of my children."

Hanley yelled back at Serrano, saying he was lying.

"I'm an alcoholic, a manic-depressive," Hanley said. "I'm living in virtual poverty."

He went on to apologize to some, then accused others of fabricating stories.

"You and your cronies duped the diocese," Hanley said.

He was referring to a suit filed by 21 men against the Paterson Diocese, claiming to be victims of Hanley. They received a majority of the $5 million payout last year to abused victims, the largest settlement of its kind in the state.

Jim Kelly, who had said he was a victim of Hanley's and never got over the abuse, committed suicide in 2003. His brother, Patrick, was at the park on Sunday.

"My brother is dead and can't speak, so I'm here to speak for him," Patrick Kelly yelled at Hanley.

Hanley quickly responded, "I did abuse you once, but I never abused Jimmy."

At one point, Hanley said to Mark Serrano that "I'll go to prison, I'll be ex-communicated, anything you want." He started to go down on one knee.

Serrano retorted, "Don't insult me."

Estevez did not attend the meeting in the park, but said he saw the flier showing a picture of Hanley and calling him a "notorious, admitted, serial child molester." Now that he and his neighbors know about Hanley, they are going to speak to their local representatives about getting him to relocate.

"Everyone is upset over this. There are kids in all these houses," Estevez said, waving his hand at the homes up and down the block.

Hanley served in churches in Parsippany, Wayne, Clifton, Pompton Plains and Mendham, but claims of abuse were not made from all the parishes. The vast majority of victims were from St. Joseph's Church in Mendham and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pompton Plains.

Hanley was not in his home Sunday afternoon and did not return phone calls. But he told The Record in a story published on Sunday that he moved to find a bigger place than the rent-subsidized building where he was living. He said he was a very sick man when he molested the boys, drinking heavily and suffering from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.

Staff Writer Mike Kelly contributed to this article.

Reach Barbara Williams at (973) 569-7786 or


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