S.J. priest defrocked over abuse of teenager

Philadelphia Inquirer/March 3, 2010

The Diocese of Camden has removed a priest from the ministry after a "substantiated" allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager at an Atlantic County residence 29 years ago, a diocese spokesman said today.

The Rev. Brendan V. Sullivan who served in 10 South Jersey parishes from 1960 until his retirement from full-time ministry in 2004, "can no longer function as a priest" and "no longer present himself as a priest," said Andrew Walton.

A man in his 40s told the Roman Catholic diocese in mid-January that Sullivan abused him in 1981 when he was 14 years old. Sullivan was in Assumption Parish in Atco at the time.

The diocese announced the removal in Friday's edition of the Catholic Star Herald, the diocesan newspaper. Sullivan was removed on Feb. 23, Walton said.

Walton said the diocese reported the allegation to the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office in January and, shortly after, "was able to substantiate the allegation and verify the details with the person making the complaint."

Walton said there was one incident of abuse. He added that the diocese has not received any other allegation of sexual abuse against Sullivan.

"The betrayal of the trust of a young person in this way is a terrible, grave offense that can never be tolerated no matter how long ago the abuse took place," Walton said.

Sullivan acknowledged to The Press of Atlantic City that the incident occurred.

He told the newspaper he met the 14-year-old in Atco and knew him for a few years and played an advisory role. Sullivan, 75, said the diocese's decision upset him.

"I lost my livelihood," he told the newspaper.

No one answered the door today at Sullivan's Kelly green-shingled home in the tree-lined Northfield City neighborhood of ranchers, where neighbors said Sullivan has lived since the 1970s.

Sullivan's shades were always drawn, and the grass and weeds were left to grow tall some summers, nearly as high as the windows, said neighbor Frank Jackson."There were times years ago, where you almost couldn't see there was a house there, it was overgrown," Jackson said.

Longtime resident Liz Stanger said Sullivan "caused quite a few problems" for residents over the years.

"This is a pretty well-kept street and he would let his yard get overgrown with weeds and trash," she said. "People around here didn't like it very much.

Ordained in 1960, Sullivan served in parishes including St. Theresa in Runnemede; St. Joan of Arc in Camden; and recently St. James in Ventnor from 1987 to 2004.

Sullivan served on the faculty at Camden Catholic High and principal at Holy Spirit High in the 1960s and 1970s.

Barbara Polesir, South Jersey director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national organization, said the group was "pleased that the diocese acted very quickly in removing Father Sullivan from ministry."

"We hope that they are reaching out to the many parishes and the schools where [Rev. Sullivan] served to see if there are other victims," Polesir said.

The Catholic Church has been rocked across the country with hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members since a national scandal erupted in 2002. The church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle cases, including money for therapy or support of accused offenders.

The last priest removed prior to Sullivan was in 2005.

In 2003, the diocese settled a landmark lawsuit, which identified many accused priests, for $880,000, admitting no wrongdoing. Twenty-three victims shared in the settlement.

That year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops mandated that all 195 of the nation's dioceses remove from ministry any priest credibly accused of having ever sexually abused a minor, and the conference required all dioceses to report any new allegations to civil authorities.

Walton said the last known abuse of a minor by a priest of the diocese occurred 15 years ago.

The church has established measures to prevent abuse, including employee training to create safe environments for young people and criminal background checks for those in regular contact with minors, including priests.

Sullivan likely won't face charges, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel told The Press, saying the state statute of limitations has expired.

Walton said assistance and professional counseling are provided to victims and the accused.

"We deplore and profoundly apologize for the harm caused to any victim of abuse and remain committed to providing ongoing assistance and healing," he said.

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