Priest Gets 18 Years for 2nd Sex Assault

By Nyier Abdou
The Star-Ledger

September 6, 2008

A Roman Catholic priest serv ing a 15-year term for sexually as saulting an 11-year-old altar boy was sentenced yesterday to another 18 years in prison for abusing another victim in the same parish.

John M. Banko, 62, was found guilty in May of first-degree aggra vated sexual assault and second- degree child endangerment for as saulting a 9-year-old boy on numerous occasions 14 years ago, when he was pastor at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Milford.

It was the second conviction for the priest, who was incarcerated in 2003 for performing oral sex on an altar boy at the same church between 1993 and 1994.

Banko, once known by his parishioners as "Father Jack," has repeatedly denied the assaults. He appeared before Superior Court Judge Roger F. Mahon in Fleming ton yesterday morning. In the courtroom were the victim, now 23 and living in California, his parents, and a representative of the diocese.

Banko declined to speak during the hearing, saying he was feeling ill. "I'm just not up to it today," he told the judge.

The victim spoke briefly, saying the harm Banko inflicted has been immeasurable and devastating. At trial, the victim testified he was violently assaulted by Banko in a locked bathroom at the church between 1994 and 1995.

"This does not take away from what happened, and doesn't make it any easier, but hopefully it will prevent him from doing this to someone else," the victim said.

"What happened to my son is inexcusable," the victim's father told the court. "The pain he's endured ... words cannot describe it."

The victim's mother said she watched her son spiral rapidly downward, be coming a "depressed, isolated young man" who painted everything black and became addicted to prescription drugs." When she learned he had been abused, she was shocked to learn it was "the one person in this world I should have been able to trust: his priest."

A report by Banko's doctor at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel found Banko to exhibit a pattern of compulsive criminal sexual behavior and questioned whether his treatment was even effective, Hunter don County Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Solari told the judge.

"The defendant continues to be in denial," Solari said. "Five years of therapy and he still denies he's done anything wrong."

"He does not accept those findings," said Banko's attorney, public defender Peter Abatemarco.

According to the doctor's report, Banko continues to view him self as an "unfairly targeted victim" who was "set up," Solari said.

Mahon sentenced Banko to 18 years on the first-degree charge, with a seven-year ineligibility for parole. A second sentence of eight years, three years without parole, for the second-degree charge, is to be served concurrently.

The Diocese of Metuchen banned Banko from performing Mass or any other priestly functions in 2000, but only the pope can dismiss a priest from the clerical state. Despite Banko's two convic tions, that process, called laiciza tion, has not yet begun.

Joanne Ward, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen, said yesterday the diocese will prepare a case for Banko's involuntary laicization, which must be sent to the Vatican for a decision. In a statement issued yesterday, the diocese said Banko's sentencing "brings another painful chapter to a close."

Nyier Abdou may be reached at or (908) 429-9925.


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