After 20 years, North Jersey memorial to clergy abuse victims still stirs strong emotions

A Millstone memorial to victims of church sex abuse outside St. Joseph Church in Mendham, the 400-pound memorial honors victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, including victims at the parish itself. July 26, 2018. Mendham, NJ Bob Karp/Staff Photographer

By William Westhoven, Morristown Daily Record

April 29, 2024

Twenty years ago this month, what's thought to be the nation's first memorial to victims of clergy sexual abuse was unveiled at a church in a quiet corner of Morris County.

Today, two of the men who achieved that milestone at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mendham are still challenging church leaders to acknowledge that "a lot of work still needs to be done."

"They still don't get it," said Monsignor Kenneth Lasch of his fellow clergy.

Lasch, now retired, was pastor at St. Joseph's in 1994 when victims of long-rumored sexual abuse at the church finally went public.

After the first of those survivors, Mark Serrano, came forward, "my life changed forever at that point," Lasch said in an interview, as the U.S. marked National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

A local tragedy gained national attention

Serrano would later became a national advocate for clergy abuse victims through the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). He took his story to the New York Times in 2002. The resulting front-page article brought national attention to a shocking local scandal.

More victims would soon come forward, including William Crane Jr., who with his twin brother was abused by clergy both at St. Joseph's and the nearby Delbarton School, where he lived on campus while his father served as assistant headmaster.

A priest at St. Joseph's, the Rev. James Hanley, was eventually defrocked after admitting he molested at least a dozen children and claiming Crane was the last.

Lasch, then St. Joseph's pastor, was "floored" by the allegations but stood behind Serrano as he shared his story with the public.

"It wasn't the first time that I had come across a priest predator, but this was the first time I came across something as terrible as Hanley," Lasch said. "He was the worst, a serial predator."

Crane, who now lives in the Seattle area, also spoke recently about the remembrance he helped establish at St. Joseph's, known as the Millstone Memorial.

Mendham memorial's Biblical inspiration

Crane began funding the initial design and creation of the Millstone Memorial, a project that also gained national attention. He credits Lasch for navigating the church's opposition to the project and getting the 420-pound circular basalt stone placed outside of the church in 2004.

The millstone, Crane said, was chosen for its Biblical symbolism in the Book of Matthew: "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

The verse is engraved on a plaque on the memorial, which once included two child-sized figurines of a boy and a girl. Those were vandalized several years ago and still have not been replaced, but the millstone itself remains intact.

"It's a miracle in itself that the Millstone Memorial is still there," Crane said. "I still see opposition from church leaders who are in denial to this day."

"Somebody questioned me when it first went up," Lasch said. "We owe these victims a tribute for what they have suffered. So don't give me any crap about it being inappropriate. It's part of our history and we don't want it to happen again."

Lasch said he is unaware of any recognition or related events conducted by the church for the memorial's 20th anniversary. The Diocese of Paterson did not respond to multiple requests for comment this month.

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