Stop the Murder of Young Souls

By The Rev. Robert Hoatson
Daily Record
November 11, 2007

When the rumors about the sexual abuse of minors by Monsignor Ronald Tully became rampant almost five years ago, I decided to bring those rumors to him, face-to-face, in the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish in Dover. It was a brisk, sunny winter's day. I rang the bell to the parish office. A worker answered the door and immediately escorted me into the office of Monsignor Tully, a dank, dirty, smoke-filled room that was also, strangely, the office of the parish's music director.

Tully thought I was asking to see him so he could hear my confession. It is not uncommon for priests to seek out unfamiliar priests for confession, especially if they have something serious to confess. I proceeded to get right to the point. I asked Tully if the strong rumors I had heard that he was a sexual abuser of minors were true. He answered, "I would never do anything like that, and have you contacted the bishop?" I told him I couldn't contact the bishop since I had no definitive proof that he was a molester, but he asked me more than three times to speak to the bishop.

His demeanor told me he was guilty, but he would never admit it. He chain-smoked, fidgeted and requested of the music director that she confirm that he was not a pedophile.

After he denied that he was a sexual abuser of anyone, I asked Tully if he knew anything about the suicide of a Paterson priest who used to live in his rectory when he was a teenager. He told me that the boy did, indeed, spend many nights in the rectory, but it only occurred when a snowstorm was coming and the boy was going to get up early to shovel or "salt" the sidewalks. He claimed he "loved" the boy and had nothing to do with his death. I believe that boy may have been sexually abused in that rectory. Just before I left, I told him I would continue my investigation. A few days later, Tully was removed from the parish.

A few days ago, we learned that Tully had accepted voluntary laicization. There were just too many victims. But why did it take four victims and nearly $1 million in settlement money to get this man out of the priesthood? One wonders why this process hadn't happened years, even decades, ago. Reports of sexual abuse by Tully were made a long time ago, but he was allowed to be a high school teacher and principal, parish priest, pastor and a specially-favored priest by the Paterson Diocese and its bishop. Otherwise, he would not have been made a monsignor.

Tully was a protected man. He was protected by the same system that created him. He should have been defrocked years ago, but the dysfunctional clerical culture that allowed him to continue serving as a priest and abusing as a pedophile is the same system that enabled his behavior. Kids weren't protected; abusive priests and their bosses were. Why won't the people in the pews believe this? They keep putting envelope after envelope and dollar bill after dollar bill into the collection baskets without questioning, without doubting, without screaming bloody murder. They are feeding the beast that allowed Ronald Tully to abuse boy after boy after boy.

How will we stop this murder of young souls? First, by passing legislation in the state of New Jersey that will give childhood victims of sexual abuse a look-back window through which they will be able to hold their abusers accountable. This legislation would benefit not only victims of clergy abuse but victims of any child sexual abuser. It is time to give victims of sexual abuse their day in court.

Second, by not allowing large institutions like the Catholic Church, with heavily financed lobbyists, to "rule the roost" in Trenton, the state Legislature will send a signal to the citizens of New Jersey that every victim of childhood sexual abuse regardless of who their abuser is has an opportunity to reap justice.


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