Watch Wayward Priest like a Hawk

By Jeffrey Page
February 3, 2006

So here's this ex-priest who had his way with kids over the course of years. The story of priestly sex abuse of children never ends.

He was defrocked three years ago. He says he had his fun with 15 young boys during a 14-year stretch when he was the trusted Father in the turned collar. Or maybe it was 12 boys.

As it is, 23 men have accused him of molesting them when they were children.

Does the Diocese of Paterson have a responsibility to keep track of this man? It's thinking about it.

The Not Very Rev. James Hanley is an expensive millstone around the diocese's neck.

His adventures with boys cost the diocese nearly $5 million, paid out in settlements to most of his victims. One never got a dime; he killed himself three years ago.

How many parochial schools could you keep open for another year with an extra $5 million in the bank? How much more could you pay the teachers? How many beloved but under-attended churches could you maintain for a few more years if you didn't have to shell out a seven-figure settlement to account for a priest's unholy appetite?

Some people lose their pensions when they're bounced for violating company rules. But the diocese pays Hanley almost $25,000 a year. This makes life a little easier when you're 69 and your resume shows that you were kicked out of the priesthood.

And there he is, living just down the street in Paterson and, as it's said, God help the kids and their moms and dads in the neighborhood. This, after all, is the priest who taught several boys how to masturbate, something most boys manage to learn on their own, usually when they're alone.

Now the question is whether the former employers of molesting priests have a duty to keep tabs on them for the rest of their lives. The diocese is looking into the matter, a process that sounds like it can't be concluded quickly enough.

The diocese should remember that keeping track of ex-priests like Hanley is good business. Knowing who they are and where they are could protect the diocese's young parishioners -- and the diocese itself -- from the hands of future exploratory priests, from future expensive settlements and from future hellish publicity.

Maybe the diocese hasn't decided yet, but the head of the ironically named office of Child and Youth Protection of the Catholic Bishops Conference told John Chadwick of The Record that there is no such obligation.

"The ties have been severed and they are private citizens," said that same head of the office of Child and Youth Protection.

That response is a little too easy, a little too blithe.

For one thing, priests who molested little boys are of the first Christian faith, the one that took note of the birth of one particular boy. That would be the one who grew to be a man and who cherished the young ones. "Suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me," he said, not with lust in his eye but with honor and love in his heart.

Severed ties? That little matter of $25,000 a year to sustain James Hanley indicates the ties are quite intact.

The head of the office of Child and Youth Protection said the bishops' four-year old child-abuse policy contains no guidance on the matter of supervision of ex-priests.

Which is why someone coined the word "re-convene."



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