Accused Metuchen Priests Not Facing Criminal Charges

New Jersey News [New Brunswick NJ]
May 21, 2003

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Of 31 allegations of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials turned over to county prosecutors, only one led to charges, Diocese of Metuchen officials said Tuesday.

The Rev. John M. Banko, a former Milford priest convicted in December of abusing an altar boy, was among the 31 priests and church officials named in accusations forwarded to prosecutors in Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties in August.

None of the other priests will face criminal charges. However, five, including Banko, have been removed from ministry and will face trials in the church under canon law, church officials said.

Diocesan General Secretary Ronald Rak said the church initially turned over files containing allegations of sexual abuse by 18 priests to Middlesex County prosecutors, one such file to Hunterdon County prosecutors and one to Warren County prosecutors.

The number of allegations of abuse by church officials grew to 29 in Middlesex County as prosecutors investigated, Rak said.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office announced Monday no criminal charges will be filed against any of the 29 priests, monks and church employees in the Diocese of Metuchen who were accused of sexually abusing children there.

One allegation against a priest in Warren County will not result in charges because the priest is dead, Rak said.

Warren County Prosecutor John Laky said he was aware of one case dating to about 1970, but no charges were filed because no victim stepped forward.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office announced its decision Monday, ending a yearlong investigation. Church and law enforcement officials said several factors affected the decision, noting that the statute of limitations had expired in some cases, while other claims did not support criminal charges or were outside the county's jurisdiction.

Julie McClure, an assistant prosecutor who leads the county's sex crimes unit, declined to discuss specifics of any of the cases, some of which date back decades. Officials noted that some of the accused have died, while some victims and witnesses would not file charges.

The diocese, in a prepared statement, said the investigation "did not resolve the status of several priests ... who are on leave of absence as a result of allegations of abuse."

Rak said the allegations will be forwarded to the Diocesan Review Board, a group of priests, church officials and laypeople, charged with reviewing accusations of priestly abuse.

Banko, who was already facing trial when the diocese opened its records to prosecutors, is now facing laicization, or loss of his status as a priest, Rak said.

The diocese, which serves 522,719 Catholics in Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties, negotiated an $800,000 out-of-court settlement earlier this year with 10 people who claimed they were sexually abused by five priests.

The victim in Banko's case, a 20-year-old Milford man, received about $134,000 from that settlement.

The information gathered in the investigation has been turned over to the diocese, and Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski will decide whether any of the allegations contains "a semblance of truth." If so, he must forward the case to the Vatican for a church trial.

The cases will first be reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board, but it was not known how long these reviews would take. The panel's members -- who were appointed by Bootkoski -- include clergy, lay persons, psychiatrists, law enforcement specialists and a survivor of clerical sexual abuse.

Buddy Cotton, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in New Jersey, said he was not surprised by the prosecutor's decision.

"The Middlesex prosecutors did their job under New Jersey law," Cotton said. "The problem is New Jersey law. In order for victims to have justice in the courts, New Jersey must abolish the statute of limitation for child sex abuse."


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