Church Court Finds Former Central Jersey Pastor Guilty of Sex Abuse

By Leo D. Rommel
Home News Tribune
March 20, 2009

Monsignor Michael Cashman

MIDDLESEX COUNTY A former pastor of St. James R.C. Church in Woodbridge is guilty of one of two charges that he sexually abused a minor more than 25 years ago at another parish, a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical court ruled earlier this month.

Monsignor Michael J. Cashman remains a priest but was permanently removed from public ministry after a ruling said he was guilty of sexually abusing a child between 1980 and 1983, when he was an associate pastor of Our Lady of God Counsel parish in West Trenton and then an associate pastor of Immaculate Conception R.C. Church in Spotswood.

Which parish the incidents took place in was not clear, said Diocese of Metuchen spokeswoman Joanne Ward.

Bishop Paul G. Bootkowski notified parishioners of St. James parish of the court's decision in a letter that was distributed during Masses last weekend.

Bootkowski said the ruling was in accordance with the U.S. Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which states that "When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry."

Cashman was pastor at St. James parish when the allegations surfaced in April 2002. He took a voluntary leave of absence when an investigation began and never returned to the church, Ward said.

"The court has the authority to impose additional penalties on Cashman, including dismissal from the clerical state, but chose not to do so," Bootkowski wrote in the letter, dated March 11. "Instead, it entrusted the issue of additional penalties to me. In the days ahead I will carefully and prayerfully consider this question, in consultation with the Holy See's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, in any event, will review all the acts of the trail."

Ward said that "as it stands right now" Cashman cannot perform "ecclesiastical" duties in any U.S. church.

"He should not be out there performing any priestly duties," Ward said.

The court that investigated the allegations was made up of three judges outside the Diocese of Metuchen, "to insure objectivity," Bootkowski wrote.

A priest-judge from the tribunals of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Diocese of Allentown and the Diocese of Camden participated in the trial, the letter stated, including a "promoter of justice" representing the Diocese of Metuchen and an advocate for Cashman.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office investigated the accusations against Cashman in 2002 but closed the case a year later without filing charges.

The reasons not to prosecute Cashman included deceased suspects, victims and witnesses who did not wish to pursue criminal charges, events that were outside the statute of limitations or outside the jurisdiction of Middlesex County, and incidents which did not support criminal charges, First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure said in 2003.

A subsequent investigation by the diocese led the Diocesan Review Board to advise Bootkoski that the allegations against Cashman were credible. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave Bootkoski permission to resolve the matter through an ecclesiastical trial.

According to Ward, an ecclesiastical trail is like a civil trail, only the plaintiff is the diocese, not the alleged victim. The diocese is presented by a "promoter of justice." The defendant is represented by an advocate. Three judges rule on the case, not a jury.This was the first ecclesiastical trial ever undertaken by the Diocese of Metuchen, Bootkoski said.

"Protecting our children has always been and remains a priority of mine, and I ask you to continue to join me in prayer for our society's most vulnerable members, whose lives are rarely the same after being abused," Bootkoski said in the letter to St. James parishioners. "May we find even better ways to protect them and to enable them to find healing."

According to Ward, Cashman served as associate pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Old Bridge from August 1975 to June 1979 before being appointed as associate pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in West Trenton.

From September 1980 to May 1983, he was associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Spotswood, and from May 1980 to September 1983 was temporary administrator of Our Lady of Peace Church in North Brunswick.

He was an administrator, then a pastor, at Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick from September 1983 to June 1995, then pastor at St. James Church in Woodbridge from June 1995 until his leave of absence in April 2002.

Leo D. Rommel: 732-565-7296;


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.