Critics: Priests accused of abuse simply relocated

The Express-Times/January 9, 2004
By John Zukowski

A former Metuchen Diocese priest accused of sexual abuse is living in a religious order in another country, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops audit disclosed. The report also said three priests from the Allentown Diocese accused of sexual abuse have been relocated.

The Metuchen priest relocated to the order overseas before he was accused of sexual abuse, the audit said.

"He is with a religious order and is no longer accountable to the diocese," said Metuchen Diocese spokeswoman Jo Ann Ward. "The diocese contacted that order to let them know about the allegation and asked them to take appropriate action."

The diocese is not releasing the name of the man being investigated and no criminal charges have been filed, Metuchen Diocese General Secretary Ronald Raks said.

"As soon as we hear from authorities that we will not impede the investigation, we will certainly release the name of the individual," Rak said.

The alleged abuse involving the Metuchen priest occurred against a former diocese parish member more than 20 years ago, Rak said. Another alleged incident of abuse also occurred when the priest was not serving in the diocese, he said. The allegations were first brought forth in 2003.

The diocese notified investigators in the two counties where the alleged abuse occurred, Rak said. The diocese covers four New Jersey counties, including Warren and Hunterdon.

Rak said he could not disclose what two counties they were. Warren County Acting Prosecutor Frank Busci said there were no active abuse investigations involving the Metuchen Diocese. Hunterdon County Prosecutor Patrick Barnes could not be reached for comment.

The audit also stated three Allentown Diocese clergy members accused of committing an act of sexual abuse moved outside the diocese. They are no longer serving as clergy, the audit stated.

"They're living out of the diocese and the bishops of those dioceses where they lived were notified about them," said Allentown Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr.

The Allentown Diocese is not disclosing the name of the three priests.

"These three priests are no different than any other priests who have been accused of abuse but no charges were brought against them," Kerr said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Conference of Bishops released an audit which evaluated the country's dioceses on how well they were complying with guidelines bishops adopted in response to the church's sexual abuse scandal.

Metuchen and Allentown were among the 90 percent of U.S. dioceses in compliance with the guidelines.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests analyzed the audit, which is available online at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Web site. The group said the audit showed at least 150 Catholic priests from 56 dioceses who were removed or retired after allegations were made against them were "quietly moved away."

The organization compiled a database of abusive priests who moved to new locations and posted it on SNAP's Web site.

In 138 cases, the priests went to other dioceses, including the three former priests in the Allentown Diocese. In 10 cases, priests left the country, including the priest who left the Metuchen Diocese, the SNAP report stated.

An official from SNAP said she encourages dioceses to release the names publicly of priests accused of abuse.

"Often the statute of limitations has expired and unless a prosecutor specifically says not to do it, the information should be made public to protect children," SNAP President and founder Barbara Blaine said. "It's better to err on the side of protecting children."

SNAP officials encouraged the church to post a list of known and credibly accused sexually abusive priests on the Internet.

"Instead of the church paying money to do a study, we think the money would be far better spent setting up a database of perpetrators to warn people," Blaine said.

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