Former S.J. Priest Held in 1995 Assault

By Renee Winkler
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
April 16, 2003

A former Roman Catholic priest who served in four Camden County parishes has been charged with the sexual assault of a 10-year-oldboy in 1995.

James Hopkins, 60, was arrested Monday at his home in Florida, where he moved in 1999 amid allegations of sexual assault on children.

Hopkins was being held Tuesday at the Martin County Correctional Facility in Stuart, Fla., on $75,000 cash bail. It is unclear when he will be returned to Camden County to face the charges.

The victim of the assaults, Jonathan Norton, now a 17-year-old high school senior, said the arrest brought him relief.

"This is it. This is the end, the last thing, and I'm absolutely ready to go to trial if I have to," said Norton.

He said emotional support from his family and his friends was greater than he imagined and he said he was never ridiculed or shunned by friends or classmates.

Hopkins is charged with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted of the most serious charge, Hopkins could be sentenced to 20 years in state prison. The sexual assault charge carries a possible 10-year state prison term; endangerment could bring a five-year term.

The incidents took place in the Pennsauken home of the victim and in Hopkins' car, a black vehicle with tinted windows, said Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi. He would not comment on the

location of the car at the time of the alleged assaults.

The criminal complaint sets the time of the offenses between May and December 1995, when Hopkins was an associate pastor in St.Pius X parish in Cherry Hill and St. Maurice in Brooklawn.

Hopkins met the victim and his parents, described by Sarubbias "very devout Catholics," when he was a priest in St. Peter's parish in Merchantville, from 1986 to 1988. He remained in touch with the family after leaving Merchantville and moving to St. Aloysius parish in Oaklyn.

Sarubbi said Tuesday investigators in the child abuse unit of his office began to look into the charges involving Jonathan in 1999, after a member of the boy's family reported the assaults.

Four years earlier, the Norton family reported to the diocese that Hopkins had assaulted one of their sons, according to AndrewJ. Walton, a spokesman for the Diocese of Camden.

Church officials believed the allegations were substantiated, Walton said, and the diocese removed Hopkins from ministry in October 1995. The church later barred him from functioning or presenting himself as a priest, Walton said.

'While this case is not new and involves a former priest of the diocese, it demonstrates that the policies and procedures of the diocese that deal with the matter of sexual abuse of minors were followed, in accord with state reporting requirements,' the diocese said in a statement Tuesday.

The allegations of assault did not lead to criminal charges or a civil suit.

In October 2000, however, the Diocese of Camden settled a lawsuit based on Jonathan Norton's claim of sexual assault for $600,000.That settlement was not part of a class-action settlement in October that ended lawsuits filed by 23 plaintiffs who said they were assaulted by priests and others connected with the Catholic Church.

Hopkins was not a defendant in that class action.

Norton, a former altar boy at St. Peter's Church, said Tuesday some of the money from his settlement will pay for Airman's Flight School in Oklahoma, a six-month program he expects to begin in July.He will graduate this spring from Hammonton High School.

He said he had assisted as much as he could in the prosecutor'sinvestigation and had placed calls to help locate Hopkins.

Sarubbi said Hopkins was living in a senior citizens complex and working at a Walgreens drug store near his home in Stuart, Fla.

Victoria Cubberly, the southern New Jersey organizer for SurvivorsNetwork of those Abused by Priests, a national group, said she admired Norton for bravery in going public with his claim against Hopkins.

"He was brave enough to come forward at a young age," she said.

Camden Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio met last year with the Norton family, expressing sympathy for the incident, apologizing forany harm suffered by them, and pledging to "further the processof healing and reconciliation."

The Diocese of Camden serves 445,000 Catholics in Atlantic,Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

In December the state Attorney General's Office and New Jersey'sseven Catholic dioceses established a formal protocol for turning cases of suspected child abuse over to prosecutors. It is believed to be the most comprehensive policy in the nation. Church officials previously were required to report the names of priests accused of abuse, but they now are required to train employees in complying with that regulation.

Diocesan spokesman Walton said he was aware of only three prior incidents of criminal convictions on assault charges against priests. He said additional reports of sexual contact with adults may have been reported.


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