LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Clergy abuse victims welcome NJ attorney general probe

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Bob Hoatson says he’s a clergy sex abuse victim of several different men, but what happened to those Hoatson accused?

“No one was ever held accountable. I reported all of them. I can’t think of one person who was even scolded,” he said.

It’s a familiar story over decades of bishops following church law and compiling secret files of the crimes, but shuffling sex-abusing priests to other parishes like a shell game, and the abusers evading investigation and prosecution. But a month ago, Pennsylvania’s attorney general dropped a bombshell grand jury report detailing years of abuse and cover-up.

“One boy was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, stripped naked and pose as Christ on the cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania attorney general.

The 888-page report catalogues crimes by some New Jersey priests — troubling Attorney General Gurbir Grewal who’s authorized a task force to use subpoenas to compel testimony and the Roman Catholic Church to turn over documents. Former Essex Prosecutor Robert Laurino will lead the task force. The attorney general has set a up hotline to hear from victims.

In a statement, Grewal said: “The Pennsylvania report revealed that sexual assaults on children – and efforts to cover up such assaults – were far more widespread in Pennsylvania than we ever thought possible. We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible. … We will devote whatever resources are necessary to uncover the truth and bring justice to victims.”

“Certainly the Archdiocese of Newark will cooperate and work with the task force as it conducts its inquiry,” said Jim Goodness, director of communications for the Newark Archdiocese.

The Newark Archdiocese says it’s investigating current abuse allegations, and since a 2002 Memorandum of Understanding with the state and counties, its reported claims to investigators. What does it think of having its secret files subpoenaed?

“I think that’s really a legal question and I’m not so sure where that’s going to go, but we’re prepared to meet with the individuals and the task force,” said Goodness.

Last week, State Sen. Joseph Vitale called for this kind of investigation, saying no person, no institution, should be immune from accountability or from justice.

“It’s significant in terms of protecting children going forward, but also gives a voice and justice to those who haven’t been able to have it all these years, and for decades,” Vitale said.

Hoatson says he was booted from the Catholic ministry when he advocated for clergy abuse victims. He co-founded Road to Recovery and is eager for the task force to get started.

“I say this publicly, today, that I would be very happy to be part of that. I’ve worked with hundreds of victims in the state of New Jersey. I’ve uncovered a lot of the corruption and I hope that Robert Laurino is going to include victims and advocates on his task force,” Hoatson said. “I do trust law enforcement much more than I trust the church. I do not have full confidence in government because even law enforcement has been deferential to the church throughout the years.”

But abuse survivors pray it’s a new day.