Sexual abuse by priests condemned

South Brunswick-area Catholics interviewed are content with their bishop’s statement in response to the scandal.

By: Nick D’Amore
   As the hierarchy of the Catholic church begins to publicly address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, local Catholics offered their support of the church and reaffirmed their faith.
   Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the Diocese of Metuchen issued a statement last week to local parishes condemning sexual abuse by priests and saying it will not be tolerated. He acknowledged that two priests in the diocese had been charged with sexual abuse and that the diocese was cooperating with law enforcement officials. Bishop Bootkoski did not identify the priests.
   The diocese includes churches in Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties, including St. Augustine of Canterbury R.C. Church in Kendall Park and St. Cecilia’s R.C. Church in Monmouth Junction.
   The statement was disseminated throughout the diocese at church services on Saturday and Sunday and was published April 4 in The Catholic Spirit, the diocese newspaper.
   Bishop John M. Smith of the Trenton Diocese announced last week that it also planned to cooperate with police.
   The Rev. Robert Lynam, pastor of St. Augustine’s, would not comment, and directed questions to the diocese office.
   The Rev. Joseph Desmond, pastor of St. Cecilia’s, could not be reached for comment.
   The bishops’ letter comes in response to media coverage of a lawsuit in the Boston area alleging that the Archdiocese of Boston knowingly transferred a priest who had sexually assaulted minors on several occasions to parishes throughout the diocese without informing the parishes. Numerous other allegations have been made against the Boston archdiocese since the suit was filed and the Boston Globe reports that court documents show that the diocese knowingly transferred other priests accused of abuse.
   Boston-area politicians, media and area Catholics have called for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the long-time prelate of the Boston Archdiocese and the longest serving prelate in the United States, to resign.
   Bishop Bootkoski, who was sworn in as bishop of the Metuchen Diocese last month, said in his statement that future sex abuse cases will be handled effectively and that the issue was a top priority. He also urged people not to overlook the good works of the majority of priests.
   "First, let me assure you that I unequivocally denounce any form of child abuse," he said in his letter. "These ‘sins of the father,’ as the media has dubbed them, cannot and will not be tolerated in the Diocese of Metuchen. We will do everything humanly possible to protect our children’s safety and to restore, reaffirm and renew trust in our priests."
   He said he was saddened by the incidents that had been reported and offered sympathy to the victims and their families.
   He said he intends to visit the 108 parishes in the diocese "to get to know the people, listen to their concerns and work with our priests, so together we will become an even stronger community of God."
   Bishop Bootkoski said any allegations of sexual assaults of children in the diocese "will be handled in an immediate, legal, responsible and credible manner, consistent with our procedures for dealing with such cases — procedures which have been in place for many years."
   The five-step procedure in use was crafted at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 1992. It says that church officials must respond promptly to all allegations of abuse when there is reasonable belief that abuse has occurred; that a priest should be removed from his parish and referred for appropriate medical evaluation and treatment if there is sufficient evidence; that the incident should be reported to law enforcement; that the diocese should reach out to victims and families and "communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being"; and that "within the confines of respect for privacy of the individuals involved, deal as openly as possible with the members of the community."
   In 1993, reports surfaced that a priest, who pleaded guilty to raping an altar boy in Massachusetts, had been allowed to work in four New Jersey churches, including St. Cecilia’s. No incidents were reported against the priest, the Rev. Eugene O’Sullivan, during his time at St. Cecilia’s. He served in New Jersey from 1985 to 1992, according to the Boston Globe.
Diocese officials said late Wednesday they did not have access to personnel records for Father O’Sullivan and could not confirm when the Rev. O’Sullivan had served at St. Cecilia’s.
   Many local Catholics said they believe the church is doing its best to address the problem.
   "I think they’re trying," said Frank Cunder, a Monmouth Junction parishioner of St. Cecilia’s R.C. Church. "They got a tough job to do. It’s not easy for any of us. We’re dealing with it the best we can."
   Marilyn Doran of Kendall Park, a parishioner of St. Augustine, said she believes the Catholic church is trying get a hold on the issue.
   "I don’t think anyone has lost faith because of it. There are a lot of good priests, they’ve educated eight of my children. Things will be OK," she said.
   Julie Ferrara, also a parishioner at St. Augustine’s, said she thought the church was handling the matter well.
   "I feel they’ve been up front and cooperative. I’m proud of the church, especially of our diocese. The new bishop took an immediate role in helping us all," she said.
   Ms. Ferrara said the church should employ qualified counselors in seminaries to determine if someone entering the priesthood could commit sex crimes against children.
   "It’s a process," she said.
   Joseph Prime, a parishioner at St. Cecilia’s, said the church could do more to ensure that Catholics’ faith does not falter, but said the church had been handling the situation well so far.
   "They’ve been handling it with dignity and caution. I’m sure they are taking the necessary steps to come to terms with this crisis," he said.