Abuse Victims Get New Home
Lutheran Church Reaches out to Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse

By Phil Garber
November 7, 2007

MENDHAM A Lutheran church has stepped in to fill the void created this summer when a local Catholic church evicted members of a support group for people who have been sexually abused by priests.

Members of the support group and others walked in a candlelight march on Tuesday night from St. Joseph's Church to their new meeting place at Grace Lutheran Church on Main Street.

The group is a local chapter of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP). The organization was formed in 2002 after revelations surfaced about James T. Hanley, a former St. Joseph's pastor who was later forced out of the church after more than 25 former parishioners said they were sexually molested by Hanley.

SNAP members had been meeting monthly at St. Joseph's Church until they were evicted in late June. The church pastor, the Rev. Joseph T. Anginoli, told SNAP members that the church space was needed for other uses, including youth meetings.

SNAP members had said the church decision was an effort to clamp down on bad publicity about the nationwide, clergy sex abuse scandal.

St. Joseph's also has the nation's only memorial to victims of clergy sexual abuse. The memorial is a millstone that has been placed outside the church, symbolic of the sins committed by priests who abuse young people.

Church Offers

Three Mendham churches have since offered room for SNAP meetings, including Grace Lutheran, St. Mark's Episcopal and Brookside Community Church, a United Church of Christ. SNAP member Mark Serrano said Grace Lutheran was selected because it is closest to St. Joseph's and to local members.

The pastor at Grace Lutheran, the Rev. Carol A. Petersen, was not available for comment.

"The members of SNAP are extremely grateful to these churches that opened their doors to us when we were unceremoniously evicted from St. Joseph's," Serrano said.

Serrano, formerly of Mendham, was the first former parishioner at St. Joseph's to come forward to say he had been sexually abused by Hanley.

"Our group is resilient and hopeful for the future," Serrano said.

Mark Crawford of Avenel, the state SNAP coordinator, said St. Joseph's was the only Catholic church in the nation that had given space for SNAP meetings. The decision to end the meetings is an effort by the Catholic church to show that the problem has gone away, Crawford said.

"The church likes to think that it's all blown over but it has not," Crawford said. "They don't want victims to come together to talk."

Crawford also said the eviction will not deter survivors of such sexual abuse from talking and mending their wounds.

"These men who were victimized will be survivors," Crawford said.

Crawford said there are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 members to SNAP nationwide and several hundred in New Jersey.

The candlelight march was to proceed for about six-tenths of a mile, from St. Joseph's to Grace Lutheran Church. Expected to participate were SNAP members as well as members of member of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group that formed in the wake of the sex scandal to promote change in the Catholic church.


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