Mendham man arrested for allegedly destroying church’s sex abuse memorial

Nov 21, 2011 | All, James Hanley, Mark Serrano

MENDHAM — The 400-pound basalt memorial, which sat outside St. Joseph’s Parish in Mendham, was meant to bring the community together. On Friday night, it was smashed apart.

Gordon Ellis is accused of taking a sledgehammer to the millstone, which was dedicated in 2004 to children who suffered sexual abuse at St. Joseph’s, and elsewhere.

Ellis, who lives about a half mile from the parish, was arrested shortly after he allegedly destroyed the monument, according to Mendham police.

The memorial was dedicated outside the parish that once employed the Rev. James Hanley, a defrocked priest who admitted to molesting more than a dozen children.

“It was a beautiful tribute,” said Mark Serrano, a Mendham Township resident, who was one of Hanley’s victims. “That parish, for so many victims, was a hunting ground. Then, we looked at it as a healing ground and then when we dedicated that memorial, it was hallowed ground.”

Today, a black tarp covered the broken chunks of rock — all that was left of what many had described as a powerful reminder of neglect and suffering.

Ellis, 37, was charged with criminal mischief, possession of a weapon, desecrating a religious premise and object and desecrating a monument. He was taken to Morris County Jail in lieu of $25,000, and is scheduled for a bail hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Police said alcohol played a role in the vandalism.

The sculpture measured about 2 feet by 2 feet and was inspired by James Kelly, a 37-year-old Hanley victim, who committed suicide.
“Clergy abuse victims are traumatized by the destruction of such an important memorial to their suffering and to those lost through suicide,” Serrano said. “Countless abuse survivors have traveled to the memorial since its dedication in 2004 for healing and observance.”

The state chapter of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests met regularly at the parish from 2002 until 2007 when their meeting space was given to a pre-K program.

The millstone was inscribed with words from the Gospel according to Matthew in which Jesus says that whoever harms children would be better off “to have a millstone hung around his neck and (be) thrown into the depth of the sea.”

“The millstone was very apropos,” said Lou Serrano, Mark’s father. “The question now is what happens there, will they replace it? Is it going to change? We’d like to see it replaced the exact same way it was before it was destroyed.”

Anyone who witnessed Ellis at the church is asked to contact the Mendham Borough Police at (973) 543-2527 or the Morris County Sheriff’s Office at (973) COPCALL.

Mendham man arrested for allegedly destroying church’s sex abuse memorial with sledgehammer
Monday, November 21, 2011
Dan Goldberg/The Star-Ledger