A recently retired priest is being investigated by church officials for alleged sexual misconduct with minors 22 years ago, Paterson Roman Catholic Diocese officials announced Thursday.
Monsignor William McCarthy, 63, who until late last month was pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Hanover, was told earlier this week that he would not be allowed to function as a priest until the matter is resolved.
McCarthy has denied any wrongdoing and said Thursday in a phone interview that the allegations were made by a woman who has a grudge against him. He made that same claim, he said, in a recent mass mailing to East Hanover residents. He said he sent those letters because rumors were being spread about him.
Those letters led the diocese to make a public statement about his case. A diocese spokeswoman said Thursday’s announcement was made to clarify what McCarthy said in his letters.
Marianna Thompson, a spokesman for Paterson Diocese Bishop Frank Rodimer, said church officials received information about the allegations from the Morris County prosecutor late last week. She said the diocese had passed along a vague accusation against McCarthy to prosecutors last summer and had been waiting to learn the results of a law enforcement investigation. She said prosecutors came back to the diocese with more specific information last Friday, almost a year later.
“Last June, we received what can be described only as vague information,” Thompson said. “The prosecutor investigated and that led to allegations involving sexual misconduct with minors.”
She would not be more specific. In a statement issued Thursday, the diocese said the allegations date back to 1981, and that “the prosecutor has informed the diocese that prosecution is barred by the statute of limitations.”
McCarthy said on Thursday that prosecutors declared the allegations not to be credible. However, prosecutors would not talk about the case and diocese officials said the allegations were specific enough to require them to investigate. McCarthy said he was upset that diocese officials made a statement about the allegations before consulting his attorney.
His attorney was unavailable for comment Thursday.
“This is a nightmare for me,” McCarthy said. “That the diocese should make this public is outrageous.”
Diocese officials said they only made the allegations public to clarify the situation after McCarthy made it public.
McCarthy portrayed himself Thursday as a victim of an atmosphere that has existed for the past year as the result of a nationwide scandal involving some priests molesting children and some church officials covering up priests’ crimes. Since last year, in an apparent effort to be more open about such cases, the Paterson Diocese has announced when priests are removed from churches after being accused of abusing children.
Thompson said the allegations against McCarthy were forwarded to a diocese review board that has been handling cases of alleged sex abuse by priests. Board members discussed the case Tuesday but did not come to a final conclusion, she said.
After the board met, she said, Rodimer was informed of its progress. He then decided to inform McCarthy that he can’t function as a priest while his case is pending, Thompson said.
“He is not to represent himself as a priest,” Thompson said. “He can’t wear the collar. He can’t say Mass.”
Thompson said the diocese did not immediately remove McCarthy last June, when it learned of allegations, for two reasons. She said prosecutors had been telling church officials not to remove priests while law enforcement officials conducted investigations, and, in this case, the allegation was too vague to require action, she said.
McCarthy said he didn’t hear about the allegations until a few months ago.
The priest said he applied for retirement last summer, a year in advance, and last month asked the diocese to move up his retirement date because he was having medical problems. The diocese gave its approval and he was officially retired on March 24, Thompson said.
McCarthy, in his mass mailing, said rumors were being spread about him but did not specify the allegations: “All these rumors you may have heard about me are started by one individual who has a vendetta against me because of conflicts in the past â€¦”
On Thursday, he said the woman who made the first accusations against him was “not part of the family that allegedly was hurt.” He did not say why he believes she has a vendetta against him. He said the woman accused him of fondling two young girls.
“She said I put them on my knee and touched them inappropriately while the mother was there,” McCarthy said. “Is this insane, or what?”
McCarthy said he sent letters to East Hanover residents because of rumors he had been arrested. Those rumors were false. McCarthy said they started because someone saw a police car pull up to the church rectory. He said he had called the police because he thought he heard a prowler.
As for the allegations of sexual misconduct, he said they also are false.
“What I’m telling you is the truth,” he said. “I never interfered with those two little girls. â€¦ Any priest today is a sitting duck. This is a crazy world we live in. â€¦ I’m the victim in this.”
Diocese officials, in a statement, said they were following rules that American bishops agreed to implement during a national conference last year. They said that while McCarthy can’t be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations, they are not bound by such constraints and plan to pursue the case.