Ex-Pastor Requests Pretrial Program
Could Avoid Trial on Fondling Charge

By Thomas Zambito
The Record
July 14, 1994

A River Edge monsignor accused of fondling an 18-year-old male parishioner has applied for a Pretrial Intervention Program, a move that could spare him a trial and let him serve a period of community service or probation.

The decision by Monsignor Robert Morel, the former pastor of St. Peter the Apostle R.C. Church in River Edge, means that his trial on criminal sexual -contact charges that was set to begin next week has been postponed. If convicted, he could have faced up to 18 months in prison.

Morel's attorney, Richard Potter, said Morel has applied to Bergen County's Pretrial Intervention Program, which typically allows first-time, non-violent offenders to serve a court-determined period of time on probation or community service. Those who apply do so without pleading to the charge.

Superior Court Judge Sybil R. Moses now must determine whether to allow Morel into the program.

"This is the best solution for everyone involved," Potter said. He said it would spare Morel, the alleged victims, and the church's parishioners the anguish of a public trial.

Potter said that as part of his application Morel has signed a letter to the victim. He declined to say whether Morel admits to the sexual contact in his letter, because he did not want to jeopardize the monsignor's chances of getting into the program.

Through his attorneys, Morel has vehemently denied his guilt at court proceedings during the past year. And earlier this year he rejected a plea bargain proposed by prosecutors. Potter said previously that the monsignor was eager to be vindicated on the charges so he could return to his ministry.

Morel has been on administrative leave since pleading not guilty to the charges in July 1993. He is not working at St. Peter the Apostle, and it is not clear whether he will return to his former position, according to a priest there.

Bergen County Prosecutor John J. Fahy declined to comment on the request for the pretrial program. He did confirm, however, that next week's trial has been postponed.

The sexual contact is alleged to have occurred on the night that Morel, 50, was elevated to monsignor, a distinguished position in the Roman Catholic Church. The 18-year-old was attending a party in the church rectory held to celebrate Morel's accomplishment.

Morel still faces sexual molestation claims made by a Massachusetts man in a federal lawsuit. That man claims that Morel molested him over an eight-year period, beginning when he was 9 years old. Morel was assigned to the Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church in Roseland at the time.

The incidents are alleged to have ended about 1981.


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