Victims Group Denounces Firing of Priest
Network Contends School Chief's Dismissal Is a Scare Tactic to Silence Church's Critics
By Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger [Newark NJ]
May 28, 2003
The main victims group arising from the priest sex scandal criticized Newark Archbishop John J. Myers yesterday for removing a Catholic school's director from his job after he publicly criticized bishops to New York legislators.
In a letter to Myers, the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called for reinstatement of the Rev. Robert Hoatson to Our Lady of Good Counsel in Newark, which has about 500 students, and for an independent review of his performance.
"(Y)our dismissal of Father Bob Hoatson is clearly meant to scare other victims and whistle-blowers within the church, as well as Father Hoatson himself, from speaking out and seeking justice," wrote Buddy Cotton, director of New Jersey's SNAP chapter. Hoatson is active in SNAP.
Hoatson, testifying on May 20 at a legislative forum in Albany about child sex abuse, said he was sexually abused by a church superior early in his religious life and contended current church leaders have lied about sex abuse in the last year.
"My church has disgraced itself by covering up," Hoatson told New York legislators, according to the New York Law Journal. "...The leaders of my church, frankly, have selected evil over good, denial over admission, lying over truth-telling."
James Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said the archdiocese knew about Hoatson's words, but the testimony had nothing to do with him losing his job.
Goodness said the archdiocese has concerns with Hoatson's management of the school, and it hopes he will focus on resolving personal issues that have led to years of therapy.
Goodness said Hoatson would be reassigned within the archdiocese.
The 51-year-old Hoatson, who has been either a priest or Christian brother in New York and New Jersey for more than 30 years, has said he was repeatedly abused -- sexually and otherwise -- in the church as an adult.
He said a fellow Christian brother sexually molested him in 1974 and he let himself become involved with the man for four years.
In 1979, Hoatson said, he reported the affair to an older Christian brother, who then also molested Hoatson, beginning an affair that lasted 18 months until it ended it in 1981.
Goodness said the archdiocese believes the relationships were consensual.
"He needs to continue the counseling," Goodness said. "The best way to deal with that is to remove him from the school so that he can face those issues and go beyond them."
SNAP officials said they do not believe the archdiocese when it says the decision to replace Hoatson came May 12, the date written on Myers' letter to Hoatson about his removal.
"The timing is too remarkable to suggest that Archbishop Myers and the Archdiocese of Newark is not actively silencing an important advocate for clergy abuse victims," Serrano said. "There are executives in corporations who undergo counseling and they still work their jobs."
Serrano noted that the archdiocese had agreed to keep Hoatson on the job at least until June, when the school years ends.
Hoatson had requested reassignment in November after a dispute with the school's finance committee, but Hoatson said he changed his mind early this year and decided to withdraw the request. He said he and Myers agreed he would stay on at least until June.
A February letter from Bishop Arthur Serratelli, vicar general of the diocese, noted that Hoatson was "kind enough to agree to stay until June 2003" and said "it is imperative for us to begin immediately to identify possible individuals capable and willing to continue the good work you have done."
In March, Hoatson said, he notified Myers he wanted to stay at the school through the 2003-04 academic year but heard no response.
Goodness said the archdiocese repeatedly tried to contact Hoatson between May 12, the date on the letter, and May 23, when Serratelli told Hoatson of the job change.
Hoatson said he received only one phone message, on the day of his testimony in Albany.
Goodness acknowledged that the archdiocese asked Hoatson to soften his words against church leaders.
"He was specifically asked to tone down his comments and to offer more balance and perspective," Goodness said. "He has chosen not to do that. We requested that he do that. He did not. The church did not demand."
Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (973) 392-1547.
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