| Seven New Jersey
priests won't face sex charges
Expired statute of limitations and reluctant
victims are cited
Thursday, August 14, 2003
BY JEFF DIAMANT AND JUDITH LUCAS
Seven Roman Catholic priests in Union County accused of incidents
of sexual abuse and misconduct between 1955 and 1982 should
have had criminal charges filed against them years ago, authorities
However, after a yearlong investigation that recently concluded,
no charges will be filed because either the statute of limitations
expired or the alleged victims were reluctant to testify,
Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said.
In a separate investigation by Romankow's office involving
more recent allegations, a former priest at St. Mary of the
Assumption Church in Elizabeth surrendered to authorities
Tuesday morning. The Rev. Hadmels DeFrias is accused of fondling
two brothers -- both under the age of 14 -- when they worked
in a rectory in 2001 and 2002, authorities said.
DeFrias was released on $7,500 bail and is scheduled to return
to court Aug. 22.
Romankow said the broader investigation involved 16 priests.
Twenty-one people accused the priests of sexual abuse and
misconduct that they say occurred from 1955 to 1982. Some
of the allegations were not brought to the attention of law
enforcement until last year.
Allegations against eight of the 16 priests would not have
led to charges because of insufficient evidence or because
victims were not easily identified, Romankow said. There were
credible allegations against the other eight, but one is dead.
Of the remaining seven, none still works as a priest, said
James Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.
At least three retired before the allegations surfaced. The
others either voluntarily left or were formally removed from
the ministry after the allegations were made, Goodness said.
"In some instances, you're talking about a year-and-a-half
that the investigation has been proceeding, and they've been
out of ministry all that time," Goodness said. "That's
a clear demonstration that we've taken the appropriate steps.
We removed them right away."
The Newark archdiocese covers 1.3 million Roman Catholics
in Union, Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties.
Three of the seven cases in which charges could have been
filed involved allegations from more than one accuser, said
Assistant Prosecutor David Hancock, who headed the investigation.
The most serious allegation involved a priest who allegedly
raped a 7-year-old girl in 1955. That case could not be prosecuted
because the five-year statute of limitation in place at the
time expired. There is no longer a statute of limitation in
Prosecutors would not identify the priests or parishes involved
in any of the allegations for fear of compromising the victims'
However, Goodness confirmed that the Rev. Edward Eilert and
the Rev. Joseph Rice are two of the seven.
When the allegations against them surfaced in the spring
of 2002, both had already left Union County. Eilert was pastor
of St. Philomena's Church in Livingston and Rice was chaplain
at the Bergen Regional Health Care Center in Paramus.
Goodness said the archdiocese would not release names of
more priests unless the Vatican approves their permanent removal
The archdiocese hopes, by the end of summer, to publicly
release information as to the number of credibly accused priests.
Essex, Bergen and Hudson prosecutors have not yet released
their information to the archdiocese, he said.
Over the course of the investigation by Romankow's office,
some victims would not cooperate. A few included their allegations
in anonymous letters to prosecutors and could not be identified,
Bill Curtis, co-president of the central New Jersey chapter
of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, the
largest national group for victims of clergy sex abuse, said
he hoped more names would be released.
"I think they should still make those names public,
just for the safety of people out there," he said.
In the DeFrias case, the allegations came to light when the
mother of the boys told authorities she walked in while the
alleged acts were being committed in 2002, authorities said.
The 32-year-old DeFrias, a native of the Dominican Republic,
joined the priesthood in 1999. He left his ministry after
the allegation was made and is now living in Forestville,
Anthony Iacullo, the attorney for DeFrias, said his client
denies the charges, which he said allege improper touching
More than a year ago, the state Attorney General's office
asked each of New Jersey's five Catholic dioceses to share
information about accusations against priests with law enforcement
The Metuchen Diocese, which covers 522,000 Catholics in Middlesex,
Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset counties, said earlier this
year that 34 accusations were made against its priests and
that five were deemed credible.
All five voluntarily left the ministry when faced with the
allegations, said Ron Rak, the diocesan general secretary.
They include the Rev. John M. Banko, who was sentenced to
18 years in prison earlier this year after he was convicted
of molesting an 11-year-old altar boy.
Copyright 2003 The Star-Ledger