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NJ diocese hires sex-detective to protect children

New office will work to both investigate, prevent abuse.

New Jersey Star-Ledger
September 3, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen has hired the former lead investigator for Middlesex County's sex crimes unit to investigate claims of child sexual abuse by church officials.

As head of the diocese's newly created Office of Child and Youth Protection, Lawrence Nagle of South Amboy will focus on child protection issues, said Ron Rak, the diocese's general secretary.

The office was created in response to the nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since January 2002.

Nagle, a Roman Catholic, worked for the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for 28 years until he retired last month. The 50-year-old Nagle spent the past three years working in the sex crimes unit, where he also investigated child abuse and domestic violence cases.

"Protecting the members of our diocese from sexual crimes has been, and continues to be, my highest priority," Bishop Paul Bootkoski said yesterday in announcing Nagle's appointment. "The Office of Child and Youth Protection will bring together under the leadership of one individual many of our initiatives to address the problem.

"Lieutenant Nagle has worked with us over the past year in his capacity as supervisor of sex crime units at the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. I am very pleased that he has agreed to join our diocesan family and work with us in combating and preventing sexual abuse," Bootkoski said in a statement.

In his new position, Nagle will be a "first responder" of sorts for the church, hearing and investigating allegations against church personnel in the Metuchen Diocese, which serves 522,000 Catholics in Middlesex, Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset counties. He also will help implement programs to prevent abuse and assist church officials in disciplinary proceedings against clergy accused of sexual abuse.

A graduate of Sayreville War Memorial High School, Nagle began working in county law enforcement in 1975, mainly investigating homicides. After moving to the sex crimes unit, he worked with Bootkoski on issues stemming from the clergy sex scandal.

"I feel strongly connected to this issue," Nagle said yesterday, his first day on the job. "I've met victims, I've seen victims, and I've seen the pain in the victims' eyes. I know how committed the bishop is to this initiative and how strongly he feels about protecting children and youth and families."

Having a former detective working within the diocese will help convince clergy sex abuse victims that the diocese takes their allegations seriously, Rak said.

"People may feel more comfortable going to someone who spent years investigating these claims, someone who came from the outside, who until recently was a member of law enforcement," Rak said.

Mark Serrano, a national spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the main victims group, hailed Nagle's hiring. He said he knew of no other diocese in the United States that has hired a former law enforcement officer full time to investigate sex abuse.

"The presence of former law enforcement officials, particularly ... a specially trained officer, is very, very important and should replicated in dioceses across the country," Serrano said.

At the same time, Serrano said, Nagle's presence does not mean the diocese can stop reporting allegations to prosecutors.

"Lieutenant Nagle should remember going into this job that there is no substitute for law enforcement in clergy abuse matters," he said. "Neither bishops nor other church officials or former law enforcement officials take the place of law enforcers."

Nagle's appointment is the diocese's latest response to the clergy sex abuse scandal. Victims groups that have accused most bishops of bad judgment or improper behavior have praised Bootkoski, saying he has responded with compassion and openness.

Since the scandal broke, the Metuchen Diocese has deemed accusations against five priests credible, Rak said. All five voluntarily left ministry when faced with the allegations. Among the five is the Rev. John M. Banko, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison earlier this year after his conviction for molesting an 11-year-old altar boy.

In May, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office announced it would not bring charges against 29 accused priests, monks and church employees accused over the years of sexually abusing children. Officials cited several factors in their decision, including expired statutes of limitations and the fact that some alleged victims did not want to file charges.

Late last year, Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent, was hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to head its national Office of Youth and Child Protection.

Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached at or (973) 392-1547.

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests