Camden Bishop Sullivan: I am ‘ashamed and disgusted’ by clergy sex abuse in grand jury report
Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan's letter, which was to be read at all vigil and Sunday Masses this weekend, joins responses from other local and national church leaders after the scathing grand jury report released in Pennsylvania last week.
Days after a searing grand jury report revealed widespread sexual abuse and cover-up by Catholic clergy members in six Pennsylvania dioceses, Camden Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan on Sunday called the report "painful" and an "important reminder of shameful past failings in the church — including in our own diocese."
"I am ashamed and disgusted by the past actions of some bishops and priests," Sullivan said in a letter issued Sunday, which was scheduled to be read in all Camden parishes over the weekend at vigil and Sunday Masses. "… Of all the places that we expect that our children would be safe, it is within our churches, schools and institutions. The fact that the church, in the past, failed in this most fundamental obligation is heartbreaking."
Additionally, Sullivan said, it was "even more difficult to read" mentions of two former Diocese of Camden priests in the grand jury report, which focused on Pennsylvania dioceses and the clergy members who moved in and out of them — including to dioceses out of state. According to Sullivan, the report named John P. Connor and James Hopkins, both of whom served at Camden parishes, as well as in Pittsburgh-area churches.
According to the grand jury report, which was released Tuesday, Connor was arrested in New Jersey in 1984 on charges of sexually molesting a 14-year-old in his home in the Diocese of Camden. Connor never went to trial, however, the report said, because lawyers for the Diocese of Camden negotiated a pre-trial intervention with the Cape May prosecutor's office. The terms: Connor's arrest record would be wiped clean, so long as that Connor confessed to the crime and was not arrested again within a year. He went on to serve in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as well as in the Philadelphia Diocese, where Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua appointed Connor to assistant pastor of St. Matthew in Conshohocken, a parish with a grade school.
In his Sunday letter, Sullivan said Connor was "removed from ministry 16 years ago and is restricted to a special facility in Missouri."
The grand jury report also included the history of the Rev. James Hopkins, who served in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as well as in Camden, starting in 1973. In 1995, Hopkins pleaded guilty to sexually molesting an altar boy in Camden. He received a 10-year prison sentence and was ordered to register as a sex offender. Sullivan said Hopkins was removed from ministry 23 years ago.
The Diocese of Camden has not been immune to the clergy sex abuse scandal that has consumed the Catholic church in the last 16 years. In addition to the two priests named in the report, the Camden Diocese has faced numerous allegations of abuse, according to the website BishopAccountability.org and has paid out millions of dollars in settlements.
Last week, the Newark Archdiocese, the largest in New Jersey, said it plans to audit its files of abuse cases, according to NJ.com. And a spokeswoman for New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his office is evaluating whether to conduct a similar probe, the news site said.
Sullivan is the eighth bishop of Camden, installed in February 2013. In his letter, he said the diocese is "doing everything possible to protect our children and shield them from harm." Since 2002, per an agreement with the New Jersey attorney general, the diocese has reported all allegations of abuse to law enforcement, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, Sullivan said. In addition, since 2003, the diocese has provided "safe environment training" to all children in the diocese's schools and religious education programs.
Sullivan also said that he has met with all diocesan seminarians and "provided them with a reporting mechanism in the event that anyone in a position of authority seeks to morally compromise them." He said he would provide a similar protocol to diocesan priests this fall.