Church Removes Priest in Bergen
Past Improperbehavior Alleged

By Ruth Padawer
The Record [Bergen County, NJ]
April 9, 2002

The Archdiocese of Newark removed a Ho-Ho-Kus pastor from his ministerial duties after receiving an allegation of inappropriate conduct in his past, officials confirmed Monday.

The Rev. William Dowd quietly moved out of the rectory last week, temporarily stripped of his duties and authority in the church.

"The archdiocese felt it needed to investigate these allegations and Father Dowd understood that," said archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness.

"It's our policy that if a priest is accused, he is taken out of ministry during the investigation. " Goodness declined to detail the accusation, including the conduct in question, when exactly it allegedly occurred, and when precisely the archdiocese learned of it. He would say only that the allegation was brought to the archdiocese, not to St. Luke's, and was made "within the last few weeks. " He said the archdiocese informed the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

Because of confidentiality rules, DYFS spokesman Joe Delmar said he could not comment.

Dowd's departure comes as several other dioceses in New York and New Jersey, from Westchester County to Trenton, are also making headlines — either with new allegations of sexual abuse or new responses by the church.

At St. Luke's, church workers and parishioners reeled from the news.

"This is not an easy time for any of us," said a parish official, requesting anonymity. "We're trying to be very careful, trying to respect the privacy of everyone involved, even the privacy of ourselves.

It's very difficult. " Though Dowd left early last week, parishioners were offered no explanation until the Saturday evening Mass, and then again on Sunday.

The archdiocese decided to explain Dowd's sudden absence only because curious churchgoers had pressed for information, Goodness said.

Right after the homily during the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, a priest read a four-paragraph letter from the Rev. Charles McDonnell, regional bishop for Bergen County in the archdiocese. Referring obliquely to allegations about Dowd's conduct "a number of years ago," the letter went on to acknowledge the affection and respect that many parishioners had for their pastor. It also asked everyone to "continue their prayers, both for Father Dowd and for the church," Goodness said.

After the announcement on Saturday, there was silence in the pews, said two people who were there. Even after the Mass, the normal chatter was gone, as congregants filed out in deafening silence, they said.

Stunned, one parishioner said on Monday, "I don't believe a word of it. He's an extremely personable man. It's just heartbreaking that he has to go through all this. This is a priest, not an evil man. " Another person involved in the church said: "Father Dowd's a great priest. He helped my nephew out; he had a drinking problem and Father Dowd turned him around. My sister thought the world of him. I think most people would speak very well of him. " Dowd was ordained in 1967. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he served as chaplain at Bergen Pines Regional Hospital and other hospitals. In 1997, he became St. Luke's pastor. Goodness said he did not know where Dowd had been assigned from the early 1990s until 1997.

Meanwhile, the Trenton Diocese on Monday announced it would send prosecutors in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties "concrete" information regarding 13 priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors. Last week, the Mercer County prosecutor reportedly received a complaint of sexual abuse concerning a priest.

Also on Monday, a woman whose two sons were allegedly sexually abused by a priest in the Camden Diocese testified that when she reported it to the church in 1984, the bishop ordered her not to tell the police.

Those developments came one day after the Archdiocese of New York announced that six priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct had been "asked to leave their current assignments" and "are not to represent themselves as priests. " Church officials recently turned over to the Manhattan district attorney a list of about three dozen priests who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors in the past.

Also this weekend, parishioners at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson were informed that their priest, the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli, was being removed because of "an allegation of inappropriate behavior from his past. " In Rockland County, the Rev. John Gallant was removed from St. Joan of Arc in Sloatsburg a few days ago on an allegation of sexual impropriety. Also in Rockland County, The Journal News reported that the Rev. William Burke of the Marian Shrine in Stony Point was named last week as a defendant in a Florida lawsuit accusing him of molesting a 14-year-old boy in 1987 in that state.


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