The impact of dozens of sex-abuse allegations against North Jersey priests has reached just about every corner of the region since 2002, when victims say they became emboldened to step forward because of an unfolding national sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.
A review by The Record of dozens of cases since 2002 shows at least 21 North Jersey municipalities have been affected in some way, including Englewood, Fair Lawn, Ho-Ho-Kus, Mahwah, Montvale, Oradell, Ridgewood, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, Rochelle Park, Paramus, Rutherford, Wyckoff, Park Ridge, Fairview, Edgewater, Paterson, Passaic, Clifton, Wayne and Pequannock. In many cases the priests were subjects of credible allegations, and in a few, priests were convicted of crimes. In rare instances, priests have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Officials from the Newark and Paterson dioceses say they have removed at least 30 priests from active ministry and defrocked seven of them because of such allegations since 2002, when they say they changed their policies as part of a national bishops’ initiative. The clerics often had moved from parish to parish, spreading the impact beyond the communities where alleged sex abuse took place.
Twelve years later, church officials say they have made great strides in the way they handle abuse cases. Some top church officials admitted in 2002 that they kept quiet about some cases of abuse. That year, they agreed in a document called the Dallas Charter to provide more information to parishioners and the public.
Still, victims’ advocates say the Catholic Church often remains too secretive about what happens to priests who are removed from ministries because of sex-abuse accusations, including where they are living. Accused priests who have not been defrocked typically continue to receive pensions. In at least one case in North Jersey, a defrocked priest receives a stipend because he is destitute.
Nationally, a John Jay College study found that 4,392 priests have been accused of child sex abuse in the U.S. between 1950 and 2002, about 4 percent of the priests that served during that time. The study also found that 10,667 children allegedly were abused during that time.
Last week, Stephen Marlowe, 48, of Hoboken held a news conference in Trenton to announce a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark over allegations that a Rutherford priest, who died in 1988 and has been the subject of a separate settlement, abused him 40 years ago. His attorney said he first asked church officials to settle the case not only by giving his client money, but by providing access to the priest’s personnel records. As in almost every case of priest sex abuse, the attorney said, Marlowe was denied access to records.
“They want to know what happened,” Marlowe’s attorney, Greg Gianforcaro, said last week about the victims. “That is a lot more important than any financial remedy.”
Church officials have released priests’ records only in scattered cases across the nation, despite pressure from victims’ advocates. Last year, as part of a civil settlement, the Los Angeles Archdiocese made public 12,000 pages of files showing church officials concealed sex abuse crimes from police.
Over the past year, several North Jersey cases have raised questions about the way accused priests are monitored by church officials, the most famous being Michael Fugee, the former Wyckoff priest who broke an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office never to work with children. There also have been reports about other accused Newark Archdiocese priests living quietly at the St. John Vianney Residence for Retired Priests in Rutherford.
James Goodness, spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers, said church officials tell parishioners about the removal of priests and refer all accusations to law enforcement. But he said the diocese typically does not reveal additional details. “I don’t discuss anything related to actions taken against particular priests for particular reasons,” he said.
The archdiocese has declined to discuss actions taken against priests who apparently allowed Fugee to have access to children. Authorities have said the priest worked with youth ministries in Monmouth County and Nutley and heard children’s confessions in Rochelle Park, Paramus and elsewhere.
Myers acknowledged in the wake of those allegations that church officials are not equipped to monitor accused clerics. He had allowed Fugee, who has since been defrocked, to continue in active ministry despite his confession that he abused a teenage boy in Wyckoff.
The archdiocese’s stance is in contrast with the Paterson Diocese, where church officials announced the removal of a popular Wayne pastor this year for allowing a former Newark Archdiocese priest accused of sexually abusing children to attend a parish family festival.
But even in the Paterson Diocese, information is sometimes slow to become public. Church officials said last week that they are still waiting for Rome to defrock a priest, the former head of a Passaic high school in the 1970s, 10 years after he was removed from ministry.
In 2002, during the height of the sex-abuse scandal, Paterson Diocese officials were under scrutiny for the way they handled several high-profile cases. Bishop Frank Rodimer, who retired in 2004, issued an apology following published reports that he had failed to report abuse cases to law enforcement.
Rodimer acknowledged that he sent one priest, James Hanley, to work in a Wayne parish after learning of sex-abuse allegations against the cleric. He defended his decision to allow another priest, William Cramer, to continue working at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson even though the cleric pleaded guilty years before to criminal child endangerment charges. After the Dallas Charter was signed, Hanley, who has admitted to molesting at least a dozen children, was defrocked and Cramer was removed from ministry.
Ken Mullaney, the Paterson Diocese attorney, said that church officials are now quick to act, not only on allegations of abuse but on any appearance of impropriety. He said it was “unacceptable” that Monsignor Christopher DiLella did not ask an accused sex offender to leave the parish family function in Wayne.
But while the Paterson Diocese has been open about the way it handles such cases, Mullaney said he would not make public the location of accused priests, as some victims advocates have demanded, because it could lead to them being harassed and forced to move from place to place, perhaps becoming homeless.
“They would be hounded out of their residences by mobs carrying pitchforks and torches,” he said. “That’s not something that should happen.”
In 2006, Hanley, who admitted to molesting at least a dozen children in Pequannock, Mendham and elsewhere, moved out of a Paterson residence after victims showed up and announced his presence to the neighborhood. Hanley later was arrested after allegedly threatening a Secaucus hotel employee with a baseball bat. He now lives at an undisclosed location.
“We know where Hanley is,” Mullaney said, adding that the priest receives a stipend from the diocese because he is destitute. Hanley does not receive a pension because he has been defrocked, Mullaney said.
Other priests who have been stripped of their ministries but have not been defrocked continue to receive pensions, Mullaney said. The diocese has removed about 10 priests from ministry since 2002 and has asked church officials in Rome to defrock three of them.
The Paterson Diocese is still waiting for Rome to complete the process in the case of the Rev. Ronald Tully, who was criminally charged with sexually abusing two boys from Passaic while they were at his Long Island home decades ago. The diocese has paid at least $1.9 million to eight people who have made allegations against Tully. In the 1970s, Tully was head of Pope Pius XII High School, which no longer exists.
Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli, as he was taking over from Rodimer in 2004, removed Tully from his position as pastor of a church in Morris County. Church officials acknowledged at the time that Tully should have been removed in 2002 after the signing of the Dallas Charter, which required removing priests after one credible allegation of child sex abuse.
They said at the time that until Serratelli examined it, Tully’s case slipped through the cracks, perhaps because of the way it had been adjudicated. The criminal charges were dismissed as part of a probation program. In 2007, diocese officials said Tully had agreed to be defrocked in a process known as laicization. Last week, they said the paperwork hadn’t been sent to Rome until another five years had passed.
Mullaney explained the delay by saying one priest is assigned to compile laicization documents and that the files often are more than six inches thick. He said the documents were sent to Rome in March 2012, adding that it still seems to be taking a long time for Rome to respond. Tully, who has been living outside of Buffalo, N.Y., did not respond to a message seeking comment.