Defrocked Priest Sentenced for Sexual Assault
" I Have to Forgive Him," Catherine Norton Says of James
F. Hopkins, Who Molested Her 10-Year-Old Son in 1995.

By Troy Graham
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 5, 2005

Sitting a few feet from the defrocked Roman Catholic priest who sexually assaulted her son 10 years ago, Catherine Norton described how her once-devout family no longer felt safe in church.

Then, just minutes before her former priest and friend was to be sentenced yesterday in Superior Court in Camden, she said she would pray for him.

"Though you no longer have my trust and respect," Norton said, pausing to look at James F. Hopkins, "you do have my forgiveness."

Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter sentenced Hopkins, 61, to eight years at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, N.J., a center for sex offenders.

Hopkins pleaded guilty in December to two counts of sexually assaulting Norton's son, Jonathan, in 1995, when he was assigned to St. Aloysius in Oaklyn. Jonathan was 10 at the time.

"He not only violated the trust of the individual victim, but everyone who attended that church, every Roman Catholic," Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Donna Spinosi said. "No one expected that a priest would do this."

Hopkins, who moved to Florida shortly after being defrocked in 1995, spoke briefly at the hearing.

"I would like to sincerely apologize to the family," he said. "I have no excuses for it."

In a statement issued yesterday, the Diocese of Camden said the charge against Hopkins was the "last known incident of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest of the diocese."

Hopkins, a native of Northeast Philadelphia, served in eight South Jersey parishes between 1973 and 1995 and once sought treatment for his sexual attraction to boys.

Hopkins' attorney, Robert Rosenberg, faulted the diocese for "placing Mr. Hopkins in position after position . . . where he shouldn't have been."

Baxter cut him off, saying the church's awareness "does not in any way, shape or form diminish [Hopkins'] personal responsibility."

The Norton family sued the diocese, and the case was settled for $625,000, the diocese said. In 2002, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio met with the Norton family to apologize.

Jonathan Norton no longer lives in New Jersey and did not attend the hearing. In a statement read in court, Norton said he still suffered "mentally, sexually and socially."

"I want to be sure he'll be put away someplace where he'll never harm a child again," Norton wrote.

Hopkins warned the former altar boy that if he told anyone of the abuse, "God would see to it that his family would burn in hell."

Catherine Norton said that, at the time, she could discern a rising anger in her young son, and she would go to Hopkins with her concerns.

"But you knew why he was angry," she said. "You manipulated his understanding of God and good and evil."

Before the assaults, Norton said, her family's life revolved around the church. They no longer attend, and "Sundays are now like any other day - ordinary and meaningless."

She said after the hearing that the church had tried to keep the abuse quiet and "handle it internally." But, she said, she never lost her faith in God and her willingness to forgive.

"I think there was pain probably for Father Hopkins," Norton said. "I have to forgive him. If I don't forgive him, I can't resolve the turmoil in my own heart."


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