Priest Loses Post after Criticizing Sex-Abuse Policy

By John Chadwick [Newark NJ]
May 28, 2003

A Catholic priest said Tuesday that he was fired from his job running a parochial school because he had publicly criticized the church's response to the sexual abuse crisis.

A spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese denied the accusation, saying the priest was "troubled."

The Rev. Robert Hoatson, who celebrates weekend Masses at parishes in Glen Rock and Midland Park, was removed Friday from his school job in Newark. The dismissal came three days after a forum on abuse held by the New York Legislature in Albany at which Hoatson excoriated church leaders and lobbied for bills that would help victims of abuse.

"I said the way we've handled this issue is a disgrace, and it's not getting any better," Hoatson said in describing his Albany comments. "My administrative record is impeccable, so this [termination] must be about something else."

But church officials told another story. They said Hoatson had requested a transfer from Our Lady of Good Counsel School in November because of disputes with an advisory board and the archdiocese's financial department. Hoatson later had a change of heart, but the archdiocese decided a transfer was still in order. Hoatson had served as director of the school for two years.

"There were personality issues and operational disagreements," said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers. "By this spring, he felt it was getting better, but we still had concerns about the running of the school."

Goodness said the archdiocese terminated Hoatson in a letter written May 12, but was unable to reach him to present the letter until last week. Hoatson disputed that account, saying he didn't receive any messages from the archdiocese until May 20, the day he was in Albany.

Hoatson said he met Friday with a church official, who told him to tone down his comments, and then turned over the letter informing him of his dismissal.

Goodness acknowledged that Hoatson was warned about his criticism, which goes back several months. But he denied that was the reason for the dismissal.

"We are concerned about those comments, which are far too incendiary, and very unbalanced," Goodness said. "But had the man said nothing, we would still be in this situation with the schools."

Hoatson said his outspokenness on the sexual abuse crisis was spurred by his recent realization that he, too, was abused. He said he was molested in 1979, when he was a 27-year-old Christian brother.

"I'm a victim of repressed-memory syndrome," Hoatson said. "I would say in the last five or six months, the stuff has been becoming clearer and clearer."

Meanwhile, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has come to Hoatson's defense. The group issued a statement Tuesday, calling for his reinstatement.

Hoatson has yet to receive a new assignment. He will continue to say Mass at the Bergen County parishes.


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