Paterson Diocese Finds Priest Sexually Abused Teen

By Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
February 4, 2005

A Paterson Diocese tribunal has determined that a priest molested a teenager in the 1960s and should be permanently suspended from priestly duties, but it did not recommend he be formally removed from the priesthood.

The diocese announced Wednesday that a judicial panel of three priests decided, after a closed church-run trial, that the Rev. James A.D. Smith was "guilty of at least one act of sexual abuse of a minor."

Bishop Arthur Serratelli has approved the penalty, a spokeswoman said.

Smith, 74, a diocesan priest for about 50 years, was accused of repeatedly molesting a teenager in the 1960s while he worked at Our Lady of Victories Church in Paterson.

Smith has long denied the charge and will appeal the verdict to the diocese judges and, if necessary, to the Vatican, diocese spokeswoman Marianna Thompson said.

The accuser has said through an attorney that he came forward in August 2002 after learning that Smith had worked as associate pastor at St. Therese Roman Catholic School in the Succasunna section of Roxbury.

Neither the accuser, Smith nor Smith's attorney, the Rev. John Catoir, could be reached for comment yesterday.

The diocese's permanent suspension of Smith's priestly faculties means he can no longer represent himself as a priest. He will receive a church pension, which he would have lost if the tribunal recommended - and the Vatican subsequently approved - that he be laicized, or formally removed from the priesthood.

The tribunal "could have asked Rome to laicize him. They did not," Thompson said, declining to discuss details of the church-run trial, which the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had ordered.

Church trials, known as canonical trials, differ from most criminal or civil trials in several ways. They are closed to the public and in most cases, three canon lawyers - often priests, as in this case - serve as judges and decide cases. There are no juries and no traditional cross-examinations.

When clergy sex abuse began receiving heightened attention three years ago, many accusers came forward with old cases whose criminal statutes of limitations had expired. The canonical trials have been part of the church's response to dealing with accused priests.

Smith's church trial was believed to be the first in New Jersey for a priest accused of sexually abusing a child, but canonical trials are not uncommon. Technically, the process of a marriage annulment is a canonical trial against the validity of a marriage.


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