Remembering Boyhood Torments at a New Jersey Parish

April 21, 2002

By RICHARD LEZIN JONES

New York Times


MENDHAM, N.J., April 20 - Slowly, Mark V. Serrano rose
before a group of childhood friends, former altar boys or
old grade school buddies. All of them, like him, were now
grown, and all of them, like him, were now coming to grips
with the sexual abuse they suffered in boyhood at the hands
of the same priest.

"For every one of us here today, we walk in victims but
we're going to walk out survivors," Mr. Serrano told the
group. "So many of us have been living in silence and
living a lonely existence. I say: no more."

It had been about a month since Mr. Serrano broke his own
silence about the abuse that he said was committed by James
T. Hanley, a former priest at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic
Church here, over seven years in the 1970's and 1980's.

Since then, he has become something of an unofficial
spokesman for the growing movement to change the way the
Catholic Church responds to allegations of sexual abuse of
minors by priests. He has been a fixture on talk shows,
chatting with Connie Chung and Oprah Winfrey.

Today he brought his message home. Mr. Serrano, who has
been contacted by about a half-dozen men who have also said
that they were abused by Mr. Hanley, returned to Mendham as
the host of a sort of sad summit meeting for old friends
who are linked by what they said were the sins of the same
man. Some of the participants still live here; others came
from as far away as Oregon and Washington State.

In a daylong session at a restaurant less than 100 yards
from the same rectory where some of the men said that they
were abused, Mr. Serrano and a clinical psychologist
reached out to them - some of whom have never discussed
their abuse - and, in turn, encouraged them to reach out to
others.

Also attending were relatives and three men who said they
were victims of other priests.

"We, as survivors, can't do this alone, all of us are in
this together," Mr. Serrano said. "Together we've got to
find other survivors. We've got to speak out for them."

It was an emotional day - part political action meeting,
part group therapy session - where the men wore name tags
and where hands frequently reached toward a pale green box
of Kleenex. There was also a sense of odd symmetry as the
men met even as the nation's cardinals prepared to meet
with Pope John Paul II in Rome to consider a broader church
response to the crisis.

"I've never seen a meeting like this," said David Clohessy,
the national director of the Survivors Network of Those
Abused by Priests. "I've never seen this many victims by
one priest find each other and start supporting each other
as quickly and as much as you all have. I am so impressed
by your courage."

And at the end of a noteworthy day came another noteworthy
occurrence. Bishop Frank J. Rodimer, the head of the
Diocese of Paterson who has already acknowledged missteps
in his handling of allegations against Mr. Hanley, met
briefly with the group. "I have a thousand different
emotions right at this moment," the bishop said after
listening to often-graphic de>
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