Diocese Pays $800,000 in Abuse Cases against Priests

By Richard Lezin Jones
New York Times
January 31, 2003

EWARK, Jan. 30 - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen has agreed to pay $800,000 to 10 people who said that diocesan priests had sexually abused them.

The agreement, approved last week by Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, addresses abuse claims against five priests, including the Rev. John M. Banko of Milford, who was convicted in December of molesting an 11-year-old boy, and Msgr. Michael Cashman of Woodbridge, a former spiritual adviser to Gov. James E. McGreevey.

The diocese, which serves about 500,000 Catholics in four central New Jersey counties - Middlesex, Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren - is believed to be the first of the state's five dioceses to have reached such a group settlement with people who said they were abused by priests.

The diocese and lawyers representing the priests' accusers reached the agreement after a special diocesan response team, created within the last year to handle complaints of abuse, heard testimony last fall from the 10 people who said they had been abused.

Under the agreement, the $800,000 settlement will be divided 10 ways, with each person receiving awards of 2 to 25 percent of the total, after legal fees are paid.

Besides the allegations against Mr. Banko and Monsignor Cashman, the payments will also settle abuse claims made against the Rev. John Butler, a former pastor at St. John Vianney Church in Colonia; the Rev. Mark Dolak, a former pastor of St. Matthias Church in Somerset; and Michael Santillo, a former priest who died in state prison three years ago after being convicted of molesting an altar boy in Perth Amboy. The settlement did not require the priests to admit wrongdoing.

Patrick J. Bradshaw, a New Brunswick lawyer who represented four of those who charged priests with abuse, praised the diocese for its sensitivity in listening to the complaints of the priests' accusers.

"What we're dealing with is injuries to people that absolutely never go away," Mr. Bradshaw said. "I believe the settlement that was reached was fair and was certainly a step in the right direction."

Ronald C. Rak, the general secretary for administration and legal services for the diocese, said that all of the surviving priests were offered a chance to defend themselves against the accusations and that some opposed the settlement.

Ben Cotton, the leader of New Jersey's chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, lauded the bishop and the diocese for their handling of the allegations.

"It's very significant," he said, "because it demonstrates that for the diocese and the bishop, the priority is the healing of victims as opposed to protecting the assets of the church."

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