Camden County Charges Ex-Priest with Sexual Assault
James F. Hopkins Is Accused by a Former Oaklyn Altar Boy
By Troy Graham
April 16, 2003
Seven years after the Camden Diocese removed James F. Hopkins from the ministry amid claims of abuse, Camden County authorities have charged the defrocked Roman Catholic priest with sexually abusing a former altar boy.
Hopkins, 60, who served eight South Jersey parishes between 1973 and 1995, was arrested Monday afternoon at his home in Florida, where he relocated after being removed from the priesthood in 1995, authorities said.
For Jonathan Norton, the victim in the case, the arrest concluded a long, personal battle to understand what happened to him, and to learn how to fight back.
Raised in a devout Catholic family of 12 siblings, the 17-year-old high school senior also struggles with accusing a man he once eyed in celestial terms.
"This is so hard to explain," said Norton, who went public with his story last year. "I feel sorry for him that he's going to go to jail [if convicted], but I'm glad other kids won't have to be abused."
In 1995, the Norton family first complained to the diocese that Hopkins had abused an older brother. The diocese suspended Hopkins, who was then the priest at St. Aloysius parish in Oaklyn, and notified the authorities.
No charges were filed in that case. Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi would not comment on that case yesterday because, he said, he could not risk identifying the brother, who was a juvenile at the time. He also referred to Jonathan Norton only by his initials.
In 1999, Jonathan Norton came forward with his own claims of abuse. The family sued, and in 2000 the diocese settled a civil lawsuit for $625,000, the diocese said yesterday.
That investigation also languished. Sarubbi said prosecutors were not able to meet with "J.N." and his family until recently, and the fact that Hopkins had moved to Florida also slowed the investigation.
Hopkins previously has declined to comment on the allegations.
Norton said he fought for years to gain the strength to tell prosecutors his story.
"In 1995, I was just a little kid. I wasn't aware of what was right and what wasn't," he said. "So, they didn't have enough information [to to bring charges]. This time I gave them enough information."
Prosecutors said the abuse happened on various dates between May and October 1995, when Hopkins was removed from the ministry. The abuse occurred at Norton's home and in Hopkins' car, which had black-tinted windows, Sarubbi said.
Before serving St. Aloysius, Hopkins was at St. Peter's in Merchantville, which was the Norton family's church. Hopkins left there in 1988 on a four-month sick leave, shortly after Norton's mother reported to the diocese that Hopkins had exposed himself to a group of altar boys. When he returned from leave, Hopkins was moved to St. Aloysius but remained close to the Norton family, according to Sarubbi.
Andrew Walton, a diocese spokesman, previously has confirmed the sick leave and transfer, but he said yesterday that he had no more information on that incident.
In 1995, when Norton's brother came forward, the diocese moved quickly to remove Hopkins and notify the authorities, Walton said. Last year, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio met with the Norton family to apologize and promise "to further the process of healing and reconciliation," Walton said in a statement.
Hopkins is being held on $75,000 bail in Martin County, Fla., pending an extradition hearing.
He has been charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.
Norton, a senior at Hammonton High School, will turn 18 next week and head to flight school in Oklahoma in the fall.
"People have been saying I'm courageous and I'm a hero," he said. "I'm just a normal kid, and that's how I want to stay."
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