Banko Still a Priest but Cannot Minister

The Express Times [New Jersey]
September 8, 2006

A Catholic priest serving time for sexually assaulting an altar boy could be defrocked if found guilty of another round of allegations.

The Rev. John Banko was indicted Wednesday on charges he sexually assaulted a child younger than 13. Banko has been prohibited from ministering since 2000 but remains a priest of the Metuchen Diocese.

"If he's convicted of this as well, the diocese may seek the final step," said Monsignor William Benwell, vicar general of the diocese.

Banko is accused of sexually assaulting the child between Sept. 1, 1994, and May 15, 1995, when Banko served as pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Milford. He faces first degree sexual assault and second degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Banko is serving a 15-year sentence in the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center of Avenel for a 2002 conviction. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old St. Edward's altar boy in 1993.

When Banko was sent to jail, "it was not necessarily an urgent matter" to strip him of his priesthood, Benwell said.

"He's not a threat to doing any harm because he is in jail," Benwell said. "That's why we haven't needed to finalize his status because we have other cases that we're working on."

The process is typically started by a priest wishing to leave the priesthood, but a bishop can remove a priest against his will, Benwell said. Also, it could be imposed if a priest is convicted after a trial, he said.

The diocese doesn't support Banko financially or provide healthcare, he said.

"We certainly keep any options open," Benwell said.


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