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Former Chaplain at Albany Med Is Defrocked

James Hanley came to Albany Diocese after allegations of abusing minors in New Jersey

Mar 23, 2003 | Albany Times Union A Roman Catholic priest who served as a chaplain at Albany Medical Center has been defrocked, the first clergyman with ties to the Capital Region known to be formally stripped of his collar since the sexual abuse scandal began roiling the church 15 months ago.

James Hanley, 66, who was accused of sexually abusing at least 15 children in his home diocese of Paterson in New Jersey, agreed to be laicized, or officially removed from the priesthood, last June. The process which involves approval from the Vatican was completed March 7.

"He was returned to the lay state," said Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Paterson Diocese.

Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard has acknowledged he knew about a complaint against Hanley when he assigned Hanley to Albany Medical Center in 1987. Hubbard said last year the diocese did not receive any complaints of sexual abuse by Hanley during his stay in Albany.

Hanley was removed from his parish post in New Jersey in 1986 and Paterson Bishop Frank Rodimer later arranged to pay Hanley's first accuser $350,000 for the abuse the man suffered between ages 9 and 16.

Hanley, who also had a drinking problem, spent six months in a residential treatment program in Maryland, followed by several months in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, ministering among banana farmers, he said in a sworn statement to the Morris County, N.J., prosecutors office in 1994. "I came back at the end of that three months feeling kind of refreshed and hopeful, uh, that uh, God would put me in the right place and a call came through from the Albany Medical Center, that they were looking for a chaplain," Hanley said in the deposition.

For years, the Albany Diocese considered hospitals to be an appropriate assignment in some cases for a priest known to have sexually abused children.

Hanley arrived at Albany Med shortly after the departure of the Rev. David Bentley, another known pedophile, who also served as hospital chaplain.

In 1986, Bentley temporarily left his post at Albany Med to undergo treatment for sexually abusing a child, church officials said.

Albany Med officials have said they were never notified about the priests' past nor have they ever received any complaints about them. Both men were employees of the diocese.

In 1988, while at Albany Med, Hanley suffered several strokes. The priest returned to New Jersey and never received an assignment again.

"Bishop Rodimer decided to put me on a physical, uh, disability and retire me," Hanley said in 1994. "He thought it would be better that I do not serve actually in the priesthood, which I agreed to."

Hanley said his life since Albany has been a series of office jobs and a struggle to stay sober.

"The diocese has sort of just, I wouldn't say abandoned me, but they, uh, they have just figured well, 'Let's just leave Jim alone,' " Hanley said.

Within one week after the national bishops conference in Dallas last year, the Paterson bishop met with Hanley and the priest decided to petition Rome for his laicization.

Hanley was never charged with a crime because Jersey's statute of limitations had expired before his victims came forward.

Hanley, whose Paterson phone number is unlisted, could not be reached for comment.

Rodimer, who has been criticized for his handling of sexually abusive priests, asked Pope John Paul II in October for permission to retire. Rodimer said a new, younger bishop is needed to help the Paterson Diocese put reforms into practice. He has been bishop for 24 years.

The Albany Diocese will not discuss whether Hubbard will seek to defrock any of the six priests he removed in June last year. It is unclear whether those priests have opted for monastic settings or have begun the canonical process of resigning from the priesthood.

In the past, Hubbard has asked some clerics, including Dozia Wilson and Mark Haight, to leave the priesthood voluntarily and be laicized because of allegations of sexual abuse.

The Paterson Diocese's public announcement of Hanley's removal by the Vatican may be an exception, compared to others nationwide, said William Barnett, a religion professor at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse.

"I think they're keeping that fairly quiet," Barnett said of most bishops. "I think they don't want scandal to attach to the church."

U.S. bishops had discussed a rule mandating the notification of victims about the outcome of church disciplinary proceedings, but it was dropped at the last minute during a meeting of church leaders in Washington, D.C., in November, Barnett said.

"I don't detect anywhere in any documents or policies that there is any kind of deadline for handling any kind of a case," he said.

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