Former Priest Enters Guilty Plea

By John Shiffman
December 20, 2004

A defrocked Catholic priest who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia pleaded guilty today to sexually assaulting an altar boy in Camden County in 1995.

By pleading guilty to second-degree assault, James F. Hopkins, who had been living in Palm City, Fla., will face five to 10 years in state prison. Prosecutors withdrew a first-degree sexual assault charge that carried up to 20 years in prison.

Under a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Donna Spinosi, Hopkins will also be required to register under Megan's Law.

Superior Court Judge Linda Baxter set sentencing for March 4.

Hopkins, 61, did not elaborate on the crimes in court. His attorney, Robert Graves Rosenberg of Paterson, N.J., declined to comment afterward.

Hopkins served in eight South Jersey parishes between 1973 and 1995. The assaults took place while he was assigned to St. Aloysius Church in Oaklyn, authorities said.

Hopkins moved to Florida in 1995 after he was removed from St. Peter's parish in Merchantville and defrocked, suspected of abusing another boy.

He was arrested last year, four years after one of the victims, Jonathon Norton, first accused him of molestation. Authorities said the prosecution was enhanced by abuse records supplied by the Catholic Diocese in 2002.

The abuse occurred at Norton's home and in Hopkins' car when Norton was no older than 11, authorities said. Hopkins pleaded guilty today to two sexual incidents at Norton's home.

Norton, now 18, has spoken publicly of the abuse several times. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

During a 2002 interview with The Inquirer, he said Hopkins had warned him not to speak of the abuse. Norton said Hopkins had told him: "If you ever tell anyone, God will hate you. You'll burn in hell. Your family will burn in hell."

Hopkins "told me he loved me constantly," Norton said. "To me, he was God... I was raised in the Catholic Church. You look at a priest, and they're the closest thing to God. You tell them your sins. You think... 'God must let this happen, so it must be OK.'"

Norton's family sued in 1999, and the following year the diocese settled a civil lawsuit for $625,000, according to the Diocese.

In 2002, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio met with the Norton family to apologize.


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