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Jan 13, 2004 | New York Post Twenty-one men sued the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., and Bishop Frank Rodimer yesterday, claiming they were sexually abused by clergy members.

Most of the plaintiffs say they were abused as children by the Rev. James Hanley, a retired priest who has been the focus of numerous complaints since the sex scandal erupted in the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002.

"Today is a day to recall the suffering that happens to children and continues as they grow into adulthood," said Mark Serrano, a leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

He claims Hanley molested him while he was a child, but is not a plaintiff in the suit. Serrano was one of the first in the nation to speak out about the abuse in violation of a confidentiality agreement he signed with the church in settling earlier legal action.

Hanley, who has declined to discuss the allegations, asked church officials to remove him from the priesthood in June 2002 after Rodimer presented him with the new church policy on sexual abuse adopted by U.S. bishops.

From 1968 to 1982, Hanley served at St. Joseph's in Mendham, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Pompton Plains and St. Christopher's in Parsippany, and now lives in a diocesan retirement home in Paterson.

Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said church officials had not yet seen the lawsuit.

"However, we intend to defend this suit vigorously," she said, declining further comment.

The lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court in Morristown.

The attorney who filed the suit, said it seeks monetary damages from the diocese and the bishop, but not from four parishes also named as defendants: St. Joseph's, St. Christopher's, Our Lady of Good Counsel and Our Lady of Holy Rosary in Dover.

"Many of the specific acts of sexual abuse are quite horrific and far exceed fondling," the attornwy said. "The acts include, but are not limited to, forced masturbation and oral rape."

The attorney said church officials knew or should have known that the abuse was taking place, and failed to stop it.

"The Catholic Church has always been committed to helping those less fortunate," Gianforcaro said.

"In this complaint, we are seeking to have the Diocese of Paterson come to the aid of the victims who were abused by the very church they worshipped in as children."

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