Newark Archdiocese Conducts First Sex Abuse Trial
Former Ho-Ho-Kus Clergyman Faces Removal from Priesthood over Case

By Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger [Newark NJ]
January 14, 2005

For the first time since the clergy sex scandal erupted in 2002, the Newark Archdiocese is holding a church trial for a Catholic priest accused of sexual misconduct that could lead to his formal removal from the priesthood.

The priest, the Rev. William Dowd, last worked at St. Luke's Church in Ho-Ho-Kus and once was chaplain to the New York Giants. He voluntarily went on leave in April 2002 after the archdiocese received an allegation against him.

A church-run trial, known as a canonical trial, is the penultimate stage of the long disciplinary process for priests accused of sex abuse. If found guilty, a priest could be laicized -- formally removed from the priesthood -- by the Vatican.

Church trials differ from most criminal or civil trials in several ways. They are closed to the public, and usually three canon lawyers -- often priests -- serve as judges and decide cases. There are no juries, and no traditional cross-examinations.

The Vatican last year directed the archdiocese to hold the trial, after an archdiocesan panel determined an allegation made against Dowd was credible, said James Goodness, an archdiocese spokesman.

Goodness said the Vatican also has directed the archdiocese to hold a trial for another priest accused of sexual misconduct, the Rev. Gerard J. Sudol. Sudol, ordained in 1980, worked at Holy Family in Nutley from 1980 to 1986, St. Francis in Ridgefield Park from 1986 to 1994, and as a hospital chaplain at St. Francis Community Health Center in Jersey City from 1995 to 2002.

Sudol has been out of ministry since 2002 when an allegation was made, Goodness said. His church trial has not yet been scheduled.

Sudol was one of nine priests whose accusers settled with the Newark archdiocese for $1.07 million last fall, Goodness said. In the settlement, the archdiocese did not admit guilt on the part of anyone, he said.

Goodness would not discuss details of the accusations made against Sudol or Dowd. He also would not reveal their whereabouts.

Dowd's trial began Tuesday at the Newark archdiocese headquarters on Clifton Avenue. A three-judge panel of priests with degrees in canon law -- all of them based outside the archdiocese -- has been presiding over the trial's "testimony phase," Goodness said.

He would not say how many people have accused Dowd, but said the testimony also included people defending him.

A Mississippi man in his 30s, who asked not to be identified, has accused Dowd of abusing him repeatedly while he was a teenager living in New Jersey. The Newark archdiocese paid for him to fly into Newark to testify Wednesday. The man said Dowd had abused him over the course of several years, after they met at Bergen Pines County Hospital, where the man stayed for a while as a boy.

The man -- who spoke to the Star-Ledger before his scheduled testimony but not afterward -- said he had told an archdiocese representative about the accusation in 2002.

The archdiocese paid for witnesses' travel expenses, Goodness said, "because this is something that's of importance to us. If someone does have to come in from out of town, we would not make that a financial burden for those people."

After Dowd's trial, the three judges will consult among themselves, Goodness said. There is no timetable or deadline for a decision.

Dowd was ordained in the archdiocese in 1967. He worked at Immaculate Conception in Montclair until 1976, and then was a chaplain at Bergen County institutions including Bergen Pines until 1991. Then he began associate executive director of CYO Youth Ministries in the archdiocese. From 1997 to 2002 he worked at St. Luke's in Ho-Ho-Kus.

Last year, the archdiocese revealed that allegations deemed credible had been made against 51 of the 3,130 clergymen who served the archdiocese from 1950 through 2002. Nationally, 4 percent of clergy faced allegations.

Most were never criminally charged, because church officials generally did not tell law-enforcement about allegations and statutes of limitation expired. Under church reforms made in 2002, bishops now pass allegations to police or prosecutors.

The Newark archdiocese covers 1.3 million Catholics in Essex, Union, Bergen and Hudson counties.

The church's own disciplinary process can seem slow, said the Rev. Ken Lasch, a canon lawyer and former pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Mendham, because the clergy have other responsibilities. Also, he said, testimony can be hard to coordinate because allegations of abuse often date back decades and because witnesses often live in other states.

"There are so many people involved in gathering testimony, and editing testimony, and preparing testimony," he said.

The Newark archdiocese is not the only New Jersey diocese involved in church trials. The Vatican has directed the Roman Catholic diocese of Paterson to hold two church trials against priests accused of sex abuse, the Rev. James A.D. Smith, formerly of Our Lady of Victories Church in Paterson, and the Rev. William McCarthy, formerly of St. Rose of Lima in East Hanover.

Diocese spokespeople were unavailable yesterday to comment on the status of those trials.