Ex-Priest's Former Prey Watch Him with Worry
They Say His Actions Present New Danger

By Jeff Diamant
The Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
March 22, 2006

Paul Steidler always worried that James Hanley would strike again.

Steidler was one of at least a dozen boys in the 1970s and 1980s molested by Hanley, the defrocked Catholic priest from the Paterson Diocese at the center of the state's most notorious clergy sex abuse case.

Yet even after Hanley admitted to the abuse in court papers in late 2003, Steidler's anxiety didn't ease. Because of the statute of limitations, Hanley was never charged with a crime -- and therefore was never registered as a sex offender and subjected to monitoring by police.

So Steidler, Mark Serrano and some of their fellow victims have taken to doing it themselves. They view themselves as self-appointed watchdogs, regularly running Hanley's name through Internet searches and even paying for private detectives.

Now, after months of erratic behavior by Hanley, and after the former priest's move last fall from a senior citizens housing complex to a residential neighborhood with children, Steidler and other victims say their concerns have grown.

"I find it all very, very disturbing," Steidler said yesterday. "I think it shows that over the past couple of weeks and months, he's adopted new levels of audacity. The fact that he is so audacious is a source of very great concern."

Hanley, 69, is scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Hudson County today after an incident two weeks ago in Secaucus, in which he allegedly threatened a 23-year-old motel clerk with a metal baseball bat. The clerk said Hanley had praised his looks, offered gifts and kissed his cheek.

There have been other incidents involving Hanley that have raised concerns among his victims:

• Shortly before Christmas, Hanley described his mental disorders on a Web site for people with bipolar disorder, writing of therapy, two past suicide attempts and depression. He wrote that in the fall, after feeling weak and disoriented, he entered a hospital psychiatric ward for a few days and has since been feeling better, his medication adjusted.

• At a December holiday party at his neighbor's house in Paterson, Hanley gave balloons to children, the neighbor said, an act his victims likened to how he had "groomed" them for sexual abuse decades ago.

• At a December holiday party at his neighbor's house in Paterson, Hanley gave balloons to children, the neighbor said, an act his victims likened to how he had "groomed" them for sexual abuse decades ago.

• In January, as his victims distributed fliers about Hanley outside his new home on McBride Avenue in Paterson, Hanley confronted them, angrily defending his actions to one victim, who had been 12 at the time, by saying the sexual contact had not been forced. With TV cameras rolling, Hanley called himself psychotic and manic-depressive.

• In a January interview with the Record (of Hackensack), Hanley said he had abused fewer boys than he previously admitted and attributed his abusive behavior to his mental illnesses.

Hanley did not return calls or e-mail messages seeking comment. A voice-mail message said he no longer lives at the McBride Avenue address. He told the Record earlier this month he planned to move to Caldwell.

Last year, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson reached a $5 million settlement with 21 people who said they had been victimized by Hanley. In court papers, Hanley has admitted abusing about a dozen boys, masturbating and showering with them and engaging in oral sex.

Hanley was accused of abusing children between 1968 and 1982 in several Morris County parishes and was forced by the diocese to retire in 1988. He was formally removed from the priesthood in 2003.

He no longer has formal ties to the Paterson Diocese, save for a monthly stipend he receives. He is one of many abusive former priests around the country monitored by neither their diocese nor law enforcement.

It is hard to predict whether a past sex offender will abuse again, said John Morin, executive director of the Center for Offender Rehabilitation and Education in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Morin cited a major study by the Canadian government of 29,000 sex offenders in Canada, the United States and England, that showed 14 percent had been arrested for a new sex crime within four years.

The recidivism rate was higher for offenders who had sexually abused boys, but the rate dropped dramatically for offenders once they reached age 60, Morin said.

Hanley's victims have increased their vigilance in recent months. Hanley's mental illness -- and his alcoholism -- became public knowledge in the aftermath of the scandal. Hanley's erratic behavior of late shows he remains a dangerous man, Serrano said.

"While he's always been a danger, my fears have grown that he's grown into a more grave danger since the start of these episodes," said Serrano, who has become a leader in the national group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. Serrano added: "What's next? Who could be in danger?"

Monsignor Kenneth Lasch, a retired priest who counsels victims and who worked with Hanley 20 years ago, said he feels sorry for Hanley.

"He needs help. He's ill. He's mentally ill. ... If he's drinks -- he's alcoholic, and he's a manic-depressive -- he could hurt himself. Or, worse, he could hurt someone else."

Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Paterson Diocese, said the diocese has no leverage over Hanley, given that he already has been formally removed from the priesthood.

Under church law, the monthly stipend that the diocese gives him, believed to be about $2,000, cannot be revoked for a former priest, Thompson said.

"He is an individual capable of acting on his own, and restricting an individual is extremely difficult," she said. "There have been many priests over the years who have simply packed a bag and gone away, and we've never heard from them again. He could develop a post office box to which his stipend is sent and live anywhere he may choose to and afford to."

Steidler said the lack of involvement from the diocese, and from law enforcement, in monitoring Hanley justified the leafletting efforts of SNAP six weeks ago.

"Hearing he's giving balloons to kids, it made clear that the trip up to Paterson was very necessary," Steidler said.

Jeff Diamant covers religion. He may be reached at or (973) 392-1547.


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