Prosecutor Drops Cases of 20 Priests

The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office announced yesterday that it will not pursue charges in 26 cases of alleged sexual abuse involving 20 priests whose names were forwarded by the Diocese of Paterson last month.

Twenty of the cases were determined to be beyond the statute of limitations. Four already had been investigated and closed by prosecutors because of insufficient evidence, and two involved criminal charges that two priests were convicted of years ago.

Of the remaining 18 priests, two are dead, nine have retired or left the priesthood and seven are still within the diocese, according to acting Prosecutor Boris Moczula. The diocese said it will now conduct its own review of the cases for possible administrative action.

In another New Jersey development in the widening scandal, the monks who operate Delbarton High School in Morris County announced that a priest who pleaded guilty in 1986 to sexual contact with a student was suspended in March.

The Rev. Timothy Brennan, one of 50 monks in the Order of St. Benedict at St. Mary’s Abbey, on the Delbarton campus, was a teacher and counselor when the incident with a 15-year-old boy occurred in 1984.

Brennan was placed on one year of probation, and the abbey promised publicly not to let him work again with children or teenagers – a restriction the abbey contends remains in place.

He initially was sent to a Washington, D.C., treatment center while on probation, and was later assigned to a Lakewood parish to work at a nursing home and a local hospital. Brennan eventually was reassigned to a New York monastery, where he sometimes said Mass at a local parish.

Throughout the past decade, he has returned to New Jersey occasionally to continue his treatment, according to the abbey. While in New Jersey, he stayed at a parish in Hanover Township. While he has visited the abbey, he never resumed living there, abbey officials said.

He was recalled from New York in March and, upon returning, was ordered into a Missouri rehabilitation facility, said abbey spokesman Anthony Cicatiello.

“His priestly faculties were officially suspended three months ago in accordance with the newly evolved standards and expectations of society,” Cicatiello said.

In Passaic County, the prosecutor’s office said it has concluded yesterday that no charges should be filed against Paterson Diocese officials “in the few instances in which the diocese received, but did not report an allegation of child abuse” in the past.

The decision was largely based on a finding that “there was no evidence of criminal intent” and that the diocese attempted “to honor victims’ requests for confidentiality” when it learned of the reports decades ago.

The diocese said it will review the prosecutor’s reports to determine whether any action should be taken against any of the remaining priests under the “no tolerance” charter on sexual abuse adopted last week by the U.S. bishops during their meeting in Dallas.

“When we have the official report in hand, we will use whatever the prosecutor’s office provides to us to help in making future administrative decisions. Each case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” said Marianna Thompson, a diocese spokeswoman.

The prosecutor’s office said it investigated the cases it received even if the seven-year statute of limitations had passed.

“This legal bar does not necessarily reflect the substantive merit of any allegation and does not rule out the possibility that some victims were sexually abused,” the prosecutors added.

The cases previously prosecuted included the Rev. Peter McBride, the former pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Clifton, who was put on probation in 1997 after pleading guilty to two charges of sexually harassing adult female parishioners.

Also included was the Rev. Jose Alonso, the former rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, who spent five years at a state center for sex offenders after pleading guilty in 1988 to sexually abusing two altar boys for at least 15 years.

Both priests are now retired.

Prosecutor Drops Cases of 20 Priests
By Brian T. Murray
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
June 28, 2002