Priest Ousted for Abuse Molestation Was in 1980s in Monmouth County

By Carol Gorga Williams and James W. Prado Roberts
Asbury Park Press
April 3, 2002

THE TRENTON Diocese has removed a Roman Catholic priest from the ministry for having sexually molested a child more than a decade ago in an unnamed Monmouth County parish, the bishop said yesterday.

The priest was the only remaining cleric active locally among 13 identified by the diocese as having committed substantiated acts of sexual abuse. In response to the uproar over such incidents around the country, the diocese went back 50 years to compile a report on priests' sexual misconduct.

Bishop John M. Smith would provide no further details about last week's ouster of the priest, except to say the incident occurred 15 years ago and was turned over to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office for review 12 years ago, when the church learned of it.

Prosecutor John Kaye said yesterday he intends to review a thin case file to determine if the case refers to the same priest that Smith removed from his duties.

Meanwhile, Kaye and prosecutors from the three other counties in the diocese - Burlington, Mercer and Ocean - are asking Smith for any information he has on abuses committed within their jurisdiction. The four prosecutors and Smith participated in a conference call yesterday to discuss the issue.

James Churchill, a spokesman for Ocean County Prosecutor Thomas F. Kelaher, said his office was not aware of any abuse committed by a priest in that county.

Because of New Jersey's complex statute of limitations involving minors, it is possible that molestations that occurred 50 years ago could still be prosecuted, Kaye said. But allegations that are so old would make prosecution difficult.

"These types of cases that are old always have considerable problems as they age, based on the availability of evidence, or memory," Kaye said. "There's usually just one person's word over another."

The recent sex-abuse scandal that shook the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston prompted the diocese to review its files.

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has been widely criticized for protecting priests known to have abused children.

Trenton's Smith said he initiated the review to satisfy his own need to know.

Two of the priests are known to be dead, and six are no longer working in the diocese, he said. Smith did not know if the six were working elsewhere or have died.

The other four priests were from foreign countries. They were working in the Trenton Diocese when the allegations were made and were sent home. The complaints of misconduct were forwarded to the supervising bishops in their native countries, Smith said.

The priest who was removed from his position last week had completed an intense psychiatric evaluation at the time, and it was determined he would be unlikely to commit another offense, Smith said. Despite that, the priest was not permitted to work with children, restricted instead to saying Mass and performing administrative duties in his assigned parish. He was closely supervised by his pastor, Smith said.

It could not be learned yesterday whether the priest was still assigned to a Monmouth County parish when Smith asked him to leave.

David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said his office has been deluged with complaints since the controversy began in Boston.

Clohessy said he would be more comfortable with the Trenton Diocese review if the 13 had been identified.

He recounted an incident in which a former priest was arrested five days ago in St. Louis. "He was quietly let go (by the church) years ago and got a job as a school counselor. Clearly, unless our prosecutor is crazy, there is evidence he has molested kids more recently."

Smith said that is unlikely to occur in the current case because wherever the former priest seeks employment, his past will follow him.

"If he puts down his previous place of employment, we certainly would make it known," Smith said. "We would have to, in good conscience, make that known."

Kathy Harth, diocese interim communications director, yesterday confirmed that the case Smith was referring to was not that of the Rev. Robert J. Parenti, who in 1998 was removed as pastor of St. Denis Church in Manasquan while church officials probed into an allegation over sexual misconduct involving a 25-year-old incident.

In that case, Smith did warn parishioners, directing priests to read letters at Sunday services.

"There's no way you can be discreet about a thing like this," Smith said in deciding to write frank letters. "We've learned over the years the depth of this problem in terms of what it does to victims, in terms of the tremendous betrayal of trust victims experience. Our concern as the church must always be with the victims, to try to help them get their lives together as quickly as possible in relatively good order."

The Trenton Diocese's policy, Smith said, calls for churches and schools to report any such allegation to the state Division of Youth and Family Services for investigation. If the charge is substantiated, he said, the case is turned over to a prosecutor.

If an adult comes forward and accuses a priest of sexual abuse when that adult was a child, the church will investigate, he said.

The diocese's policy came down from the Catholic Conference in 1985, was updated in 1993 and may need further review, he said.

The Diocese of Trenton is the 20th-largest in the country. The diocese, which has 235 active parish priests, reviewed personnel records of more than 500 priests for its investigation, Smith said.

The review concluded any existing probe, Smith said.

New Jersey is one of only 18 states with laws requiring anyone who suspects a child is being abused to report it to authorities. The diocese has a similar policy for its employees. The policy requires that any accused cleric be relieved of all duties until the end of an investigation.


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