Parishioners Support Priest Removed from St. Theresa's

By Rob Spahr
Press of Atlantic City
October 3, 2007

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - It wasn't the best reason to congregate, but more than a thousand people filled St. Theresa's Church on Tuesday night to hear Bishop John M. Smith explain why a long-time priest of the parish was removed from his duties following accusations that he sexually molested a minor.

Parishioners filled the church's pews for longer than two hours to find out why the Diocese of Trenton took what many parishioners, according to people who were inside the closed meeting, considered to be swift action to remove the Rev. Terence McAlinden last week after the priest served the parish for almost two decades.

The special meeting, which was open only to St. Theresa's parishioners. The Diocese of Trenton said Saturday a Diocesan Review Board had determined there was enough credible evidence that McAlinden molested a minor repeatedly from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s to remove him from his position.

According to parishioners who were inside the meeting, Smith offered the crowd an explanation of the situation and then opened the floor to the audience.

Instead of questioning how this kind of situation could have happened or demanding answers from the church about what it is going to do safeguard their children in the future, members of the audience said most speakers used the forum to offer praise and support for McAlinden.

Janet Pascavitch, a member of St. Theresa's since 1989, called the meeting upsetting but said there was an overwhelming amount of support for McAlinden.

"A lot of people showered Father Mac with accolades," said Pascavitch, 55, of Little Egg Harbor Township. "And rightfully so, he did a lot of good here."

Pascavitch said the meeting helped her to see more than what the accusation, which was first filed last month with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Officer, was saying.

"After 40 years as a priest there was just this one incident? People who do that are typically repeat offenders," said Pascavitch, who said the diocese claimed that there were never any other accusations filed against McAlinden. "I really think that this could be something that was made up for whatever reason. Maybe the (unnamed accuser who is now an adult) has hit a rough patch in his life. The church has deep pockets, so I am worried about the motive."

Many parishioners, Pascavitch said, were upset that the diocese removed McAlinden so quickly.

"The bishop stood up and said 'Our main concern has to be the protection of the children,' which got a lot of applause," she said.

However, while a majority of the parishioners who spoke supported McAlinden - some to the point of tears - others were disappointed in that support.

Carrie McDermott has three kids and was aggravated that there wasn't more concern about the severity of the accusations.

"Most of the people who got up to speak wanted to talk about was how great this man was. He was here a long time and did a lot of good things, but this is a serious charge and it should be taken seriously," said McDermott, 32, of Little Egg Harbor Township, who has attended St. Theresa's for more than a decade.

While the meeting offered many a chance to praise McAlinden, it was a disappointment for McDermott.

"I came here because I answers and that didn't happen," she said. "I don't know why (the meeting) wasn't more critical, or at least informative, when you consider the charge is child molestation. I really expected much more."



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