Priest Turned Advocate Joins 2017 Race for N.J. Governor

By Brent Johnson
December 8, 2016

Bob Hoatson is pictured in 2013. (John O'Boyle | The Star-Ledger)

Bob Hoatson has an unconventional resume for a budding gubernatorial candidate.

The 64-year-old West Orange resident is a one-time Catholic priest who changed course and became a vocal advocate for sexual abuse victims. He's never been elected to public office.

But now, Hoatson is one of the many contenders seeking the 2017 Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.

And he's hoping the recent rise of non-politicians like Donald Trump, a businessman with no government experience who was elected America's 45th president last month, makes his chances of becoming New Jersey's chief executive less of a long shot.

"My real passion is real leadership," Hoatson, who launched his bid last month, told NJ Advance Media in an interview Wednesday. "New Jersey is in such bad shape right now. We need leadership."

Hoatson grew up in West Orange and spent 23 years as a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He later spent 14 years as a Catholic priest.

Hoatson was also a middle school and high school teacher, as well as principal of Holy Trinity School in Hackensack.

While still a priest, Hoatson began speaking out about sexual abuse allegations against clergy. He said he's a survivor of sexual abuse himself.

Hoatson claimed he was removed as director of schools at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Newark in 2003 because of his advocacy. He sued the Newark Archdiocese for $5 million in 2006.

Archdiocese officials argued that Hoatson requested a transfer. The suit was dismissed in 2009.

Asked for comment Wednesday, James Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, referred to a statement he made after the case was thrown out.

"It is our hope that Father Hoatson finally will come to understand that his claims of retaliation, loss of economic benefit, and distress are baseless," Goodness said at the time. "The archdiocese has remained patient in its dealings with Father Hoatson because it is well aware, as we have said many times before, that he is a troubled man."

Hoatson successfully lobbied the Vatican in 2011 to leave the priesthood.

He co-founded Road to Recovery, a nonprofit designed to help victims of sexual abuse, in 2003. He has also lobbied the New Jersey Legislature to reform the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of children in the state.

In 2014, Hoatson ran unsuccessfully for town council in West Orange.

Hoatson, who received a doctorate in educational administration and church leadership from Fordham University, said much of politics these days involves "transactional leadership" -- those who seek control to get something in return. Instead, he said, he wants to bring "transformational leadership" to New Jersey.

"Frankly, the leadership of many institutions is corrupt to the core," Hoatson said. "I think that's a universal principle. It's one of reasons I've stood up to leaders of the church."

Hoatson will face an uphill battle in the governor's race. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination is Phil Murphy, a former banking executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany who has widespread support from county party chairs and millions of dollars in his campaign chest.

Also running are activist and former firefighter Bill Brennan, former U.S. Treasury official and federal prosecutor Jim Johnson, and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex).

But Hoatson said he plans to run a grassroots campaign similar to the one Bernie Sanders did in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

"We're putting together a website with a button on it where people can donate," Hoatson said. "If we can engage in just talking to New Jerseyans about real issues, who knows?"








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