Diocese Removes Priest Accused of Sexually Abusing a Child

By Jeffrey Gettleman
The New York Times [Newark NJ]
July 12, 2005

NEWARK, July 11 - A Roman Catholic priest was removed from his church over the weekend in response to an accusation that he sexually abused a child 18 years ago.

The Diocese of Metuchen took the action against the Rev. John Casey, the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in North Plainfield, after an internal investigation. The bishop of Metuchen, Paul G. Bootkoski, announced the news on Saturday night in a letter he read to members of the church, in a community southwest of Newark.

"Perhaps the most difficult thing I have been called upon to do as your bishop is to inform a parish that its pastor has been accused of wrongful conduct," the bishop began.

Father Casey could not be reached for comment, but the bishop's letter indicated that he had denied the accusation.

Church officials said that the diocese first learned of the allegation in December and immediately contacted law enforcement authorities. But because the statute of limitations had expired, church officials said, prosecutors would not look into the case, leaving it up to the church to investigate. A board made up of church officials and child abuse experts interviewed Father Casey, the accuser and several others and concluded that Father Casey might have abused the child. "The charges are not without merit," the bishop wrote.

Church officials were quick to say that their inquiry was only preliminary and that if Father Casey is cleared, he may get his church back.

Father Casey, who is 47 and struggling with health problems, has served at four different churches in the past 20 years. Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the allegation of improper behavior, which the accuser said took place while Father Casey was parochial vicar of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in New Brunswick, was the only such charge that he had faced.

Church officials would not disclose the accuser's sex.

Father Casey joins the hundreds of priests who have been removed from Catholic churches in recent years over allegations of sexual abuse.

The next step will be for the bishop to decide whether to hold a trial, in which three church judges would decide Father Casey's fate.