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Former Assumption Priest Referred For Sex Abuse Trial

Jan 16, 2003 | Hanover Eagle

A former pastor at Assumption Church on Maple Avenue was one of four priests of the Paterson Roman Catholic Diocese who will face a church trial after a review board ruled last Wednesday that charges that they sexually abused children are credible.

The panel recommended subjecting the four to church legal proceedings, diocese officials said Wednesday.

According to reports, Monsignor John Henry Dericks, a former pastor at Assumption Church in Morristown in the 1980s and Holy Spirit in Pequannock, paid $25,000 in a legal settlement almost 10 years ago to a woman who accused him of abusing her while she was a child in the 1960s. Dericks, who lives in Andover, is retired but had been saying mass at a local church until late last year, when diocese officials told him he could not represent himself as a priest while his case was being reviewed.

The woman, Cheryl Christopher of Passaic, said last year Dericks abused her while she was a parishioner at Holy Spirit. She said she did not tell diocese officials about it until 1993 when she hired a lawyer and threatened to sue Dericks because she feared that she would not be believed.

Dericks could not be reached for comment.

Bishop Frank J. Rodimer of the Paterson Diocese accepted the board's recommendation and referred the four cases to a diocese official. The official is supposed to gather evidence and, according to Rodimer, act as prosecutor before a panel of priests who make a final judgment and determine punishment.

The review board, appointed by church officials and made up of priests and lay people, examined five cases in the diocese and recommended the reinstatement of one priest.

Its rulings against the four priests - Dericks, the Rev. Ralph Sodano of Our Lady of the Lake in Washington Township. , the Rev. Allen Stepien, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist in Washington Township and the Rev. James A.D. Smith, assistant priest at St. Therese in Roxbury - were made public by the diocese in a statement issued on Wednesday.

"In each case, the review board found the allegations to be credible," said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for Rodimer in the release.

Thompson said all of those cases will be handled by a diocese official known as the "promoter of justice," the Rev. Mark Condon, who was appointed to that post last year. Criminal charges cannot be filed in any of the cases because the statute of limitations has expired.

The promoter of justice represents the church and plays a role similar to a criminal prosecutor, according to Thompson.

American bishops approved a charter last year that requires priests found to have abused children either to be removed from the priesthood or to remain a priest but be barred from any ministry and be required to live a life of penance, perhaps in a monastery.

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