Removal of Dissident Priest Criticized

By Steve Strunsky
Associated Press, carried in Newsday [Newark NJ]
May 27, 2003

NEWARK, N.J. -- A priest critical of the Roman Catholic church's response to sexual abuse allegations was removed as a school principal for what the church said was his inability to handle school finances.

On Tuesday, however, a clergy watchdog group accused church officials of retaliating against the priest, the Rev. Robert M. Hoatson, for his outspokenness.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, the vicar general of the archdiocese, on Friday gave Hoatson a letter dated May 12, removing him as director of schools for Our Lady or Good Counsel, a combined catholic elementary and high school in Newark, said diocesan spokesman Jim Goodness. Hoatson remains a priest and continues to live in church housing and receive his salary, Goodness said.

Goodness said Hoatson's removal was unrelated to layoffs of 44 archdiocese staff members in a cost cutting measure that was also effective May 23.

No one answered the phone at Hoatson's church office and home number on Tuesday afternoon.

Hoatson's public criticism of the church includes a comment quoted by The Associated Press on May 16, in which he expressed doubts about church assurances it would report allegations of abuse against priests.

"We're talking about abuse that is embedded in the culture. It's rampant, and we've got to stop it," Hoatson was quoted as saying. Hoatson has said he himself was a victim of sexual abuse.

Goodness said Tuesday that Hoatson had requested to be removed from the school post in November, due to differences with Our Lady of Good Counsel's board over school finances. Goodness would not elaborate on those differences.

Goodness and Matt Kelly, a spokesman for the watchdog group that criticized Hoatson's removal, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, both said Hoatson changed his mind, however, and sought to remain in the school post.

But Goodness said the board decided on its own that Hoatson should be removed in the best interests of the school. And while he said Hoatson's criticism of the church was unjustified, Goodness insisted the criticism had "absolutely nothing" to do with Hoatson's removal.

Kelly insisted otherwise, and accused the archdiocese of backdating the May 12 removal letter to a date prior to Hoatson's May 16 comments.

"The timing of the letter is too ironic," he said.

Goodness said church officials tried to deliver the letter May 12, but could not get in touch with Hoatson.


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