Priest Details Sexual Assaults on Children

By Phil Garber
Observer-Tribune [Mendham NJ]
September 1, 2004

A former Mendham priest accused of molesting two dozen children more than 20 years ago said he thought he was educating his victims but that he would have stopped the assaults if he had been provided extensive therapy by the Catholic Diocese of Paterson.

The former priest, James Hanley, 68, also said at least five other priests probably knew of the sexual assaults as early as 1975 but that no action was taken by the diocese until the family of one of the victims complained in 1984 to former Bishop Frank Rodimer.

Hanley also said there may have been other victims but that he suffered blackouts as a result of his alcoholism.

Hanley provided the most detail to date of the incidents in civil court papers filed on Thursday, Aug. 27.

The case is one of the nation’s largest childhood sexual abuse cases against the Catholic Church. It involves 26 alleged victims, including 21 allegedly abused by Hanley. Hanley voluntarily turned in his collar two years ago although he was never charged because the criminal statute of limitations has expired.

The court papers were filed by attorney Gregory Gianforcaro as part of an effort to block the diocese’s motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the statute of limitations for the complaints has expired. Superior Court Judge Deanne M. Wilson is expected to rule later in the month on whether the case will continue.

A spokeswoman for the diocese declined to comment on the court motion and referred questions about Rodimer to his lawyer, Stephen Weinstein of Morristown. Weinstein was not available for comment.

Hanley made his statements in an interview conducted by Ginaforcaro at Hanley’s Paterson home on Oct. 4, 2003.

In the statement, Hanley said he suffered from alcoholism and bi-polar disorder that led him to periods of mania, followed by times of deep depression that approached suicidal levels.

He said he molested the children, during his highs or lows.

“I felt I was doing a service to them,” Hanley said. “That might be hard to believe, but when you’re manic, you actually feel that you’re helping them.”

While in his manic moods, Hanley said he had “no idea” that he was “causing any psychological harm to them whatsoever.”

“Until I went into depression and in the depression state I would start to see things more clearly and start to feel the shame and the guilt from what I had done,” Hanley said.

Hanley was asked if he would then “repeat these acts time and time again.”

“Yeah, when I would go back into a manic state,” Hanley said.

According to the statement, the first time Hanley learned that the diocese was aware of his alleged involvement with the youths came in September 1984. Then Bishop Frank Rodimer informed Hanley that one of the young parishioners, Mark Serrano, formerly of Mendham, had complained to two priests of sexual assaults by Hanley.

Asked by Rodimer if he had molested Serrano, Hanley answered, “I never denied it outright and said, “yes, it’s so,” The bishop said, “well, Jim I want you to know that you’re not the one.””

Hanley said he told Rodimer he had abused about 12 other boys but that the bishop did not ask for their names.

According to Hanley, Rodimer had convinced Serrano not to tell his parents of the incidents. Hanley said Rodimer felt “in control of the situation” and that he could “avoid scandal” as long as Serrano did not go to his parents.

But that all changed in late 1985 when a photo appeared in the diocesan newspaper, The Beacon. It showed Hanley serving mass with a group of children. A short time later, Serrano told his parents who then demanded that Hanley be removed from the church.

Rodimer subsequently met with Serrano’s parents, Louis and Patricia, on the day after Thanksgiving 1985 and told them that Hanley was receiving counseling. But Hanley said he didn’t begin any counseling until mid-December and believed that the counseling was only provided because of the pressure by the Serranos.

Hanley said he attended a total of three counseling sessions.

A decade earlier, in 1975, was the first time Hanley told another priest that he had been molesting children. But Hanley said the priest did not offer to help and Hanley said he continued the assaults and didn’t mention his activities again until many years later when confronted by the diocese.

Hanley said in March 1975 he went for help to a friend and fellow priest, Raymond Jasaitis. Hanley had suffered a nervous breakdown and before being hospitalized had gone to Jasaitis for support. Jasaitis has since died.

“I just started to mention to him that I had fondled (unnamed victim) and he cut me short and said, well, let’s change the topic or words to that effect,” Hanley said. “He didn’t want me to go on getting into such personal information.”

Hanley said he was reaching out to Jasaitis for help in getting into a treatment program. Hanley said he would have stopped the abuse, had he received treatment.

“I hadn’t come to grips with my alcoholism yet as of that time. I was just dying to get this guilt and this shame off my chest and to tell somebody about it but when Father Ray cut me off like that I just retreated inside myself and didn’t mention it to anybody else until 1986,” Hanley said.

According to Hanley, he believed at least five priests knew or “strongly suspected” that he had been molesting children. They included the Rev. Anthony Kowalski, the Rev. Daniel Vecchiolo, the Rev. Louis Holterhoff and the Rev. Thomas Rainforth.

The addresses of the priests are not listed in the interview and none could be reached for comment.

Later in the interview, Hanley said the sexual activities with children included masturbation, oral sex, showering together and watching pornographic movies. But he said his alcoholism caused him to forget his actions.

“I would often have periods of blackouts and people would tell me later that I had done something in a blackout and I would have absolutely no recollection of doing it,” Hanley said.


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