Ex-Asbury Priest Facing Sex Allegation

By Andrea Alexander and Carol Gorga
Asbury Park Press
May 2, 2002

A ROMAN Catholic diocese in southern Illinois this week removed a priest after the Trenton Diocese forwarded information arising from an allegation of sexual misconduct during the priest's service in Asbury Park during the 1970s.

The allegation against the Rev. Edward Balestrieri is one of about seven cases reported by religious orders to the Trenton Diocese since the diocese's review of its own files from the past 50 years turned up evidence of sexual offenses involving 13 priests. A spokesman for the Trenton Diocese said there were approximately 20 files in the hands of prosecutors.

The Belleville Diocese Fitness Review Board recommended administrative leave for Balestrieri as parochial administrator of St. Mary's Parish in Sesser, Ill., church officials said.

The action came after the Trenton Diocese last week forwarded an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1975 or 1976, while Balestrieri was assigned to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Asbury Park.

The Rev. Jerard Lynch, pastor of Mount Carmel, said he had not heard about the allegations against Balestrieri until yesterday.

"It is very sad," Lynch said. "He served the people well."

Balestrieri was associate pastor at Mount Carmel from 1960 to 1968 and returned in 1971 to serve through 1978.

Lynch served with Balestrieri for 31/2 years as associate pastor. He said Balestrieri did a lot of positive things for the church during that time.

"He was assigned to the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization), and he built it up. He worked very hard for the youth. He was respected here," Lynch said.

Steven Emery, a spokesman for the Trenton Diocese, said yesterday that the Balestrieri file has been turned over to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, which is reviewing diocesan personnel files to determine whether it can proceed in any criminal cases involving former priests.

Prosecutors in the diocese's other counties - Ocean, Burlington and Mercer - also received files after the diocese's initial review turned up cases in which 13 current or former priests may have committed sexual misconduct during the past 50 years.

Since that review, Emery said, the diocese has received additional files from religious orders that work in the diocese, such as the Order of the Most Holy Trinity - also known as the Trinitarians - which operates Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Those files also have been turned over to prosecutors in the appropriate jurisdictions.

"When we got the file, we learned he had already left the diocese," Emery said. "The allegation was made fairly recently, within the last few weeks."

Emery would not say how many files are now in the hands of prosecutors, although he did say there were approximately 20. "I'm not going to put a number on it," Emery said.

Several parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel yesterday said they were shocked to hear about the allegations made against someone they remembered as "kind and gentle."

Although they all declined to give their names, parishioners said Balestrieri would pick children up for catechism classes so they wouldn't have to take the buses into Asbury Park. He would visit people's homes and say a blessing, the parishioners said.

Balestrieri is the first priest in the Belleville Diocese accused since the sex-abuse scandal reached nationwide proportions 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, Belleville Diocese Chancellor Kenneth York told The Associated Press. Gregory also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will meet in Dallas next month to discuss a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual abuse.

Balestrieri, 71, is being monitored and questioned by church officials at an undisclosed location away from the rectory. 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. He served at St. Mary's Parish since 1999. Any criminal charges filed would be determined by the victim and the victim's family, York said.


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