Little Egg Harbor Priest Faces Sex-Abuse Allegation

By Rob Spahr
Press of Atlantic City
October 2, 2007

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Parishioners of St. Theresa's Church were still in shock Monday, four days after the parish's longtime priest was removed from his position due to allegations that he sexually assaulted a minor.

The Rev. Terence O. McAlinden was removed from his position as pastor of St. Theresa's and placed on administrative leave following allegations that he was involved in sexual misconduct with a minor in the late-1980s, according to Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Trenton.

McAlinden was removed from his position on Friday by Bishop John M. Smith after a Diocesan Review Board determined information it received from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, which detailed the allegations, was credible.

Last month, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office received a single complaint from a man who said McAlinden sexually molested him multiple times during the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was still a minor, according to Capt. Michael Mohel of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

The man is now in his mid to late 30s, Mohel said.

However, since the alleged events occurred so long ago, the statute of limitations expired and prohibited the office's Sex Crimes Unit from being able to prosecute the case, Mohel said. "So the information we had collected was submitted to the Diocese of Trenton for their review and attention," he said.

McAlinden was relieved of his priestly faculties, meaning that he cannot publicly celebrate Mass, exercise his priestly ministry, wear clerical garb or present himself as a priest in the Diocese of Trenton or anywhere, Bennett said.

"It's very important to note that he has not been defrocked," said Bennett, adding that is a process that requires a lengthy period of review.

McAlinden moved out of his residence at St. Theresa's on Saturday and the Diocese is still waiting for McAlinden to update it on his new residence, which, she said, he would find independently.

McAlinden had been at St. Theresa's since 1988 and recently helped spearhead the project that moved the church from Main Street in Tuckerton to a brand new building on Radio Road in Little Egg Harbor Township. The new church opened its doors last year.

In a letter to the St. Theresa Parish community, Bishop Smith announced that the Diocese "is taking the steps necessary to follow through on this complaint so that the rights of all parties will be handled respectfully."

Smith added that the person who made the allegations was offered counseling and pastoral help.

Msgr. Hugh F. Ronan has been appointed as a temporary replacement for McAlinden at St. Theresa's.

Ronan said he could not comment about the matter on Monday, but he did say there will be an open public meeting at the church tonight at 7:30 p.m., during which Bishop Smith will address the situation and take questions from the public.

Meanwhile, the news continued to shock and anger the church's parishioners.

Christopher Chiaro, 76, of Tuckerton, has attended St. Theresa's since 1992 and was never a fan of McAlinden's, he said.

"It is always going to be a shadow over us," said Chiaro, who was at Mass when parishioners were informed of the incident. "At my last church our priest quit to get married. If this was something (McAlinden) wanted to do, then he should've quit too, instead of letting it get this far."

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