Priest Is Given 18-Year Term in Sex Assaults

By Thomas J. Lueck
The New York Times [New Jersey]
July 16, 2003

A 57-year-old Roman Catholic priest in New Jersey who was convicted in December of having sexually assaulted an 11-year-old altar boy a decade ago was sentenced yesterday to 18 years in the state's specialized prison for sex offenders.

The priest, the Rev. John M. Banko, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He had been accused of assaulting the altar boy on two consecutive Sundays in a small changing room at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Milford, where Father Banko served as pastor.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Ann R. Bartlett of New Jersey Superior Court in Flemington directed that Father Banko serve his term at New Jersey's Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, a facility for sex offenders.

Dawn M. Solari, a member of the Hunterdon County prosecutor's office, said Father Banko was sentenced to the facility after a court-ordered evaluation found him to be a "repetitive and compulsive" sex offender. That finding was accepted by Judge Bartlett over the objections of Father Banko's lawyer, Lewis White 3rd, Ms. Solari said.

Father Banko's sexual assaults on the altar boy took place between September 1993 and September 1994, and in each instance occurred after Father Banko had finished saying Mass. The victim of the assaults testified in December that they had occurred in a small changing room as he and Father Banko were changing clothes. The authorities said Father Banko on both occasions performed fellatio on the youth and then forced the boy to touch Father Banko's genital area.

Besides the former altar boy, three men, each in his 30's, testified against Father Banko to show that he had engaged in a pattern of seduction. They described being sexually assaulted in various ways, but no charges were filed in their cases because the statute of limitations had expired.

Father Banko testified at the trial and denied the allegations. He said that he interpreted his vow of celibacy to mean he could never marry but could engage in sexual relations.


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