Priest Gets Probation in a Deal
He Was Accused of Molesting a Boy in N.J. the Victim, Now 21, Will Not Have to Testify

By Wayne Parry
The Associated Press, carried in Philadelphia Inquirer
April 29, 2006

FREEHOLD - A Catholic priest accused of molesting a 9-year-old boy a decade ago after taking him to basketball games was sentenced to five years of probation yesterday in a deal that dropped a sexual-assault charge to spare the victim from having to testify.

The Rev. Joseph McHugh, who was removed from active ministry about 10 years ago, pleaded guilty in October to a single count of endangering the welfare of a child.

The victim, who is now 21, declined to speak in court, but said through his attorney that he was glad McHugh had to face justice. However, other victims of clergy sexual abuse, including the priest who replaced McHugh at St. Thomas More Parish in Manalapan, blasted the deal.

"Joseph McHugh, though he made many good choices in his life, chose the worst kind of evil," said the Rev. John Bambrick, who said he was molested by priests while studying to become one. Bambrick, who served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Maple Shade in the early 1990s, said he had tried to warn Trenton Diocese officials about McHugh.

State Superior Court Judge Bette Uhrmacher sentenced McHugh to probation, fined him $1,000 and required he register with the state as a sex offender. For a person with no criminal record, like McHugh, the charge does not carry a presumption of jail time.

Gregory Gianforcaro, the victim's attorney, said the abuse occurred between 1994 and 1996 when McHugh was at St. Thomas More. The victim sued McHugh and the Diocese of Trenton, and received an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount, Gianforcaro said.

Steven Emery, a spokesman for the diocese, said McHugh has been on leave since 1996, and has been removed from active ministry, although he technically remains an employee of the diocese. But McHugh has not undergone the process of laicization, in which he is formally removed from the priesthood.

After the court hearing yesterday, Bambrick said he had complained to church officials years before McHugh came to St. Thomas More. While Bambrick was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, McHugh would stop by after school and pick up carloads of boys to take them to shopping malls or arcades.

McHugh later went on vacations with several of the boys, leading Bambrick to call their families and warn them that he felt something was not right with McHugh. Bambrick said he notified church officials about his suspicions.

Emery said that Bambrick's letter to church officials did not mention any specific instance of misconduct and that no potential victim had come forward or been identified at the time. The church sent McHugh to counseling based on Bambrick's letter, Emery said.


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