Bergen Pastor Focus of Abuse Investigation

By David Gibson
The Star-Ledger [Newark, New Jersey]
April 10, 2002

A popular Bergen County pastor and one-time chaplain to the New York Giants has become the first priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark to be publicly named as the subject of an investigation into allegations that he sexually molested a minor.

Church officials confirmed yesterday that the Rev. William J. Dowd of St. Luke's Church in Ho-Ho- Kus moved out of the rectory last week after he was informed by the archdiocese that it had recently received an allegation of improper conduct by Dowd that occurred "many years ago."

The officials said they referred the allegation to the state's Division of Youth and Family Services, which declined either to confirm or deny an investigation, while the church itself continues to examine the case.

"We just want to make sure we are thorough and cover every eventuality," said James Goodness, a spokesman for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.

Under state law, allegations of child abuse of any kind must be reported to DYFS, which in turn forwards information on child sexual abuse to prosecutors.

DYFS had not forwarded information on the case to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office as of last night, said Sharyn Peiffer, deputy first assistant prosecutor. The office is not investigating the allegations, Peiffer said.

Goodness said Dowd is still a priest but is not in active ministry, and he did not know Dowd's exact whereabouts. He said that when Dowd was informed of the allegations, he asked to take a "sabbatical," knowing that church policy requires any pastor under scrutiny to leave their post pending the outcome.

But Goodness declined to provide other details about the Dowd case or other recent allegations regarding several unnamed priests in the state's largest archdiocese, which covers Bergen, Essex, Union and Hudson counties. Myers said last month that allegations involving fewer than a dozen priests have surfaced since the national scandal broke in Boston in January.

"There is absolutely no timetable" for wrapping up the inquiries, Goodness said.

Each of the state's five dioceses, representing 3.2 million Catholics, is now conducting a review of past files on priests, some going back 50 years, to determine if there were any outstanding charges that were not addressed. They are also fielding new allegations that usually involve past incidents.

Smith said this week that he would forward information on the 13 to prosecutors in Mercer, Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties, the area covered by the Trenton Diocese.

The suspicions against Dowd came to light, church officials said, because parishioners at St. Luke's grew concerned over his unexplained disappearance and had been calling the archdiocese for information. "We felt that it was important to alleviate their confusion and concern," Goodness said.

So at Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday, a priest read the congregation a brief letter from Bishop Charles McDonnell, auxiliary bishop for the county, explaining that Dowd had been the subject of "alleged conduct that occurred many years ago" and had "voluntarily left his assignment until the matter is resolved."

"We know that most of you in the parish have great affection and respect for Father Dowd and it is with great sadness that these steps have to be taken," McDonnell wrote. "However, it is important for us to have this fully investigated and cooperate with authorities in such matters."

The bishop asked for "understanding and prayers," and said he could provide no further details on the charges. "We hope that you will understand and appreciate the need for privacy and discretion at this time."

Beginning this week, the Rev. John F. Connor, a canon lawyer who works for the archdiocesean tribunal and lives at Immaculate Conception Church in Newark, will take over as the interim pastor and administrator of St. Luke's.

Connor could not be reached for comment yesterday, and the staff at the parish referred all calls for comment to the archdiocese.

Dowd came to the Ho-Ho-Kus church in 1997, following a five-year stint as head of CYO, the Kearny-based Catholic youth ministry that operates programs for young people throughout the archdiocese.

Dowd's tenure there had a rocky start. He faced sharp criticism as he tried to clean up a financial mess in CYO's program for minority youth, called Quest. In August 1993, protesters picketed the archdiocesan offices demanding Dowd's resignation and charging him with racism.

The archdiocese pledged to conduct an audit of the Quest program, but Dowd remained in his post and rode out the bitter dispute.

At the same time, Dowd was enjoying more positive publicity as chaplain to the New York Giants football team, a post that traditionally goes to the CYO director.


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