Local Priest Tied to Sex Case

By Chad Weihrauch
Home News Tribune [New Jersey]
July 12, 2005

The pastor at a Roman Catholic church in North Plainfield has been removed after an accusation he sexually abused a minor nearly two decades ago while serving at a parish in New Brunswick.

No criminal charges have been filed against the Rev. John Casey, 47, who has been at St. Joseph R.C. Church in North Plainfield since 1991. The allegation arose from a period 18 years ago, when Casey worked as the parochial vicar at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in New Brunswick.

According to the Diocese of Metuchen, authorities recently investigated the sex-abuse claim against Casey but concluded the statute of limitations had run out, meaning no criminal case could proceed.

Still, the church indicated a probe had found there may be some substance to the accusation, leading to his removal.

Casey is the 19th priest to be involved in a sexual-abuse allegation since the diocese was established in 1981.

Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski sent a letter that was read to parishioners beginning during Saturday night's Mass. In it, he told church members at St. Joseph an internal investigation had found the allegations "are not without merit."

The diocese did not detail the exact nature of the sex-abuse charge or the age of the alleged victim, but emphasized it apparently was a one-time incident.

"It wasn't anything prolonged or over a period of years or whatever," diocese spokeswoman Joanne Ward said yesterday.

The letter from Bootkoski, dated July 9, read in part:

"Unfortunately, I must tell you today that Father Casey has been accused of sexually abusing a minor some 18 years ago, when he was assigned as the parochial vicar of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in New Brunswick. Father Casey has denied the allegation."

The case was reported to authorities, the church said, but under state law, the time limit to file charges had run out.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office did not return several calls yesterday seeking information on the guidelines that govern such cases.

Bootkoski's letter continued:

"The Diocese recently completed a preliminary investigation of these charges in accordance with canon law. It was the conclusion of the professional investigator and the Diocesan Review Board, and it is my own conclusion, that the charges are not without merit."

The diocese noted that Casey has not been convicted of any crime, but it is obligated under church law to, firstly, send the case to Vatican City for review by Catholic officials and, secondly, to remove him, pending a final determination on his case.

A priest who had worked at St. Joseph on the weekend, the Rev. Ed Edwards, has been named temporary administrator of the North Plainfield parish.

Standing outside the rectory talking to congregants yesterday, Edwards said he had no comment on the case.

No charges have been filed against Casey.

Most of the two dozen or so parishioners who filtered out of the golden-gilt front doors of St. Joseph after the daily 12:10 p.m. Mass yesterday declined comment. One said congregants had been asked by the church to keep conversations with reporters brief.

However, Clifford Jackson, 50, of Plainfield, who has attended the church for about three years, said he could not believe any charges had been leveled against Casey. He said he knew the pastor from cookouts and other church gatherings, and added his granddaughter will be attending St. Joseph's private elementary school next year.

"He was a good guy, a decent guy," he said. "Shocked that's the word, that's the word."

Others made reference to the continuing scandal in the Catholic Church, wondering how parishioners and the clergy will rebound from another incident.

Ward, the diocese spokeswoman, said Casey has been assigned to a number of churches over the years, including St. Philip and St. James Church in Phillipsburg, St. Peter in New Brunswick, the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen and St. Joseph in North Plainfield.

Both St. Joseph and St. Peter have private schools with hundreds of young pupils.

According to the Web site Private School Review, St. Peter has two schools, a K-eight elementary and a grade nine-12 high school, which have a combined enrollment of nearly 400. In North Plainfield, St. Joseph also has a private school, with nearly 200 K-eight pupils.