Priest Forced from Clergy As a Result of Sex Scandal
Hanley, of Paterson Diocese, Is 'Officially a Layperson'

By John Chadwick
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
March 14, 2003

A North Jersey priest has become the first in the state to be forced from the clergy in the wake of last year's Catholic Church scandal.

James T. Hanley, who accusers say employed a kindly, paternal charm to seduce boys into performing sex acts, can no longer wear his collar, celebrate Mass, or identify himself as a priest.

"He is officially a layperson," said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for Paterson Bishop Frank J. Rodimer.

Hanley has been retired since the 1980s and living in a low-income apartment building in Paterson. He could not be reached for comment.

Hanley's accusers went public last year. Their stories shocked local Catholics, prompted an apology from the bishop, and signaled that the church crisis that unfolded in Boston was spreading to Catholic communities around the nation.

"It was an eruption," said the Rev. Kenneth Lasch, who leads the Morris County parish where Hanley had once served, and who had ministered to Hanley's accusers. "It was a visceral eruption. It was emotional. It was spiritual and it didn't stop."

Hanley's removal, or laicization, was set into motion last June, when the nation's bishops approved tough new rules for priests who sexually abuse children. The rules require bishops to remove a priest from active ministry, or from the priesthood, after one instance of abuse.

Hanley requested removal from the priesthood when Rodimer told him of those options, Thompson said.

Last Friday, the Rev. Mark Condon, a diocesan official, went to Hanley's apartment and told him that the Vatican had approved his departure from the clergy.

"He knew that this decree was going to arrive, and when it did, he accepted the consequences," Thompson said.

One of Hanley's accusers expressed little joy upon learning that the priest's 40-year career had ended. "It has truly provided no greater sense of closure," Mark V. Serrano said. "It's just a sad reminder that my life and so many others are impacted daily by Father Hanley's actions so many years ago."

Serrano was the first to go public with lurid stories of molestation and oral sex in a Mendham church rectory. Hanley, a close friend of Serrano's parents, slowly drew the boy into a relationship that began when he was 9 and lasted until he was 16, Serrano said.

After Serrano came forward, others - 15 in all - followed to say that they, too, had been abused by Hanley at St. Joseph's Church.

They focused their anger on Rodimer, who failed to immediately remove Hanley after learning of the allegations in the mid-1980s. Rodimer apologized, and conducted question-and-answer sessions at the five parishes where Hanley served.

Serrano was propelled into the role of a national spokesman for the victims' movement.

Hanley has never been charged with a crime. His accusers waited too long to report their allegations to the police. They have hired a lawyer, Gregory Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg, who has been discussing the allegations and a possible settlement with the lawyer for the diocese.

Hanley, 66, grew up attending church at St. Mary's in Paterson. He was ordained in 1962. He served parishes in Pequannock, Clifton, Parsippany, Mendham, and Wayne.

His wit and musical abilities made him a popular priest at a time when the Second Vatican Council was introducing modernizing changes to the church.

"When I was a child, James Hanley was enchanting in every way possible," said Ben Cotton, another of Hanley's accusers from Mendham. "In this child's mind, Hanley was evident of the very good in God's intentions. Unfortunately, the man missed the message God was sending for his ministry. He missed it by a long shot. And the result was 15 children were devoured."

The process of laicizing a priest is overseen by the Vatican. It is used typically when a priest wishes to marry. Once laicization is approved, the church no longer has the obligation to feed, clothe, or house the priest.

The change for Hanley will be far less dramatic. Hanley no longer lives in church quarters and has no official ministerial roles. He will continue to receive his church pension.


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