Trenton Roman Catholic Diocese Pays $325k Settlement in Sexual Assault Case

By Jeff Diamant
The Star-Ledger
November 23, 2009

JAMESBURG -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton has paid $325,000 to a 32-year-old woman who says she was sexually assaulted by a former diocesan priest, the late Rev. Ron Becker, who died in January.

Jenni Franz, who was Becker's niece, says Becker molested her more than 100 times from when she was 5 until she was 11. She said she first came forward to the diocese in 2004.

Becker had been the subject of other, similar allegations, and the diocese has settled with at least two other accusers, according to one of Franz's attorneys, Greg Gianforcaro.

Trenton Bishop John Smith barred Becker from ministry in 2002, after receiving what the diocese termed "credible complaints." A previous bishop had removed him from parish assignments in 1989, and in the interim he worked in the diocese headquarters, away from minors, evaluating requests for annulments, diocese officials said.

Middlesex County prosecutors charged him in 2007 with second-degree sexual assault. He died before the case was resolved.

Franz, a 32-year-old speech language pathologist who lives in Winter Park, Fla., just outside Orlando, said she remembers Becker molesting her through much of the 1980s, from the time she was 5 until she was 11. She said. Becker eventually confessed to her during a conversation recorded for police that he had molested her starting when she was an infant.

Today, she and her two attorneys announced the financial settlement at a press conference outside the headquarters of the Diocese of Trenton.

She said that while she has deposited the money from the settlement in an account, she does not foresee spending it. She said the diocese knew Becker was molesting others in the 1980s while he was abusing her, and that she remains upset over this.

"On one hand, it (the settlement) gives you some closure," she said. "But it's not really closure, knowing that they (diocese officials) knew and didn't care. That check's just sitting in an account. There's no way to go and get your childhood back."

Becker, who was 63 when he died in January, was ordained in the Trenton Diocese in 1973. He later served as president of the Jamesburg Historical Society.

The alleged incidents occurred in a family home in Jamesburg, and while Becker babysat for Franz at St. Francis Church in Trenton, Church of the Incarnation in Trenton, and Church of the Precious Blood in Monmouth Beach, said Mitchell Garabedian, Franz's other attorney.

"Her mother would go shopping, Father Becker would say, 'Don't worry, I'd love to babysit Jenny.' And he would sexually molest her," Garabedian said.

The diocese confirmed the settlement amount but contested Franz's version of events. Diocese spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett said the diocese learned of Franz's allegations only in 2007, shortly before Becker was charged.

Bennett said the diocese viewed the allegations as a family problem unrelated to Becker's "priestly ministry or responsibilities," and that the diocese "nevertheless reached out to Ms. Franz as soon as we learned of the allegations with offers of assistance in order for her to begin the healing process.... (A) financial settlement was reached through mediation."


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