Priest Removed for Alleged New Jersey Sex Abuse

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 1, 2002

A Roman Catholic diocese in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis has removed a priest because of an allegation that he sexually abused a New Jersey minor in the 1970s, diocese officials announced Wednesday.

Officials with the Belleville, Ill., diocese said its Fitness Review Board recommended administrative leave for the Rev. Edward Balestrieri as parochial administrator of the St. Mary Parish in Sesser. The action came after the Trenton Diocese last week relayed an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor while the priest was assigned in Asbury Park, N.J., in 1975 or 1976.

Balestrieri is the first Belleville Diocese priest accused since the sex-abuse scandal emerged nationwide this year. The diocese created the review board to help eliminate abusers from the clergy after a string of cases in the early 1990s.

The temporary removal means the review board has heard credible evidence but will investigate further before recommending a final action to Bishop Wilton Gregory, said Kenneth York, chancellor of the Belleville Diocese.

Balestrieri, 71, is being monitored and questioned by church officials at an undisclosed location away from the rectory and is not available to speak publicly, York said. He will be evaluated by a psychologist as part of the investigation.

"He's not allowed to have contact with children," York said. "He cannot celebrate Mass publicly. He is not to wear the collar."

York said the diocese has received no allegations of misconduct by Balestrieri since he came to Illinois in 1985. Civil authorities in Monmouth County, N.J., have been alerted to the case.

"Each time we face an allegation of this nature, it is a difficult and traumatic event for the victim or victims, for their families, for our parishes, for the local community and for the priests and their families," Gregory said. "I will continue to act in the most forthright manner possible in responding to these cases where children may be at risk."

The diocese offers counseling to both the victims and the priests, he said.


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