Former Priest and Deacon at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Little Egg Harbor on List of Credible Child Sexual Abusers

Feb 20, 2019

Two former members of Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church in Little Egg Harbor are on the list the Diocese of Trenton released on Wednesday of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Among the 30 names on the “preliminary” list are priest Terrance McAlinden (known as Father Mac) and a former deacon of the church, Charles Comito. Both men have since died.

McAlinden was removed from the ministry in 2007 amid allegations of sexual abuse.

According to newspaper reports, during the 1980s  McAlinden supervised youth groups at the Jeremiah Retreat House in Keyport. It was there that Chris Naples of Brick met McAlinden and was subsequently befriended and molested by him when he was invited on trips with the priest. Naples’ allegations in 2007 brought two other victims forward. One claimed he was sexually abused in 1989 but was paid to keep quiet. Another claimed he was assaulted at the age of 14 by McAlinden in the rectory of a church in Sayerville when he was an altar boy in the 1960s.

During a deposition in the suit brought by Naples, McAlinden admitted having a sexual relationship with Naples but claimed it occurred only after Naples turned 18. He also admitted sleeping nude with boys at the retreat house.

Comito was the coordinator of the diocese’s Family Life Education Council for St. Theresa’s. According to APP news reports, Comito and his wife were in charge of instructing children and their families on sexuality in response to teen pregnancy rates. No further information on allegations was available.

On the Trenton Diocese website it states the lists released on all five dioceses on Feb. 13 were compiled from a review of all available files of priests who served in them. “Despite the best efforts of the Dioceses to produce a complete and accurate list, the size and age of the Dioceses make it difficult to guarantee that all historic abuse has been captured. The Dioceses encourage any victim of abuse, whether that is reflected in the Dioceses’ list or not, to report the abuse to law enforcement.”

David O’Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, wrote to his flock, “This preliminary list will be updated as more information becomes available. I do this with the greatest sadness and with a heavy heart. Our first responsibility must always be to those who have endured sexual abuse as minors and the release of these names is our effort to express acceptance of their allegations as credible and to indicate the status of their alleged abusers.  I greatly admire and respect the courage of those victims who have come forward. It is our hope that the public presentation of these names will contribute to healing the awful wounds that victims have endured at the hands of some clergy.” 

The diocese also recently hired Kenneth Fienberg and Camille Biros, victims’ compensation experts, to administer a state-wide Independent Victim Compensation Program, supported by the five dioceses of New Jersey. Compensation will go to victims who were sexually abused by clergy of the Roman Catholic Church while minors. The administrators of the program will have complete autonomy to determine eligibility of individual claims and the amount of compensation. The program is intended to compensate eligible victims of child sexual abuse, including those whose abuse occurred beyond the state’s statute of limitations. Since 2002, the dioceses have paid out almost $50 million in settlements to victims, including $38 million to victims whose claims were beyond the time limits allowed by the statute of limitations.

If you have been sexually abused as a minor by a member of the clergy or anyone representing the Catholic Church, or if you know of someone who was, you can report that abuse through the diocesan ABUSE HOTLINE: 1-888-296-2965 or via email at abuseline@dioceseoftrenton.org. Anyone with an allegation is also encouraged to provide the information to local law enforcement agencies.

The diocese outlined its work to create a safe environment for the most vulnerable of its church members. All New Jersey dioceses have implemented comprehensive “safe environment” education programs and, over the past 15 years, have trained more than 2.3 million adults, children, employees, clergy and volunteers. Prior to his anticipated ministry, every priest seeking to minister in every diocese must present a letter of suitability from his bishop/religious superior testifying that he has never been accused of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult. The dioceses also conduct background evaluations for all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors.

Over the past 15 years, some 380,000 criminal background checks have been completed.

All of the New Jersey Catholic dioceses have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the attorney general and the county prosecutors to facilitate the immediate intervention of law enforcement whenever there is any allegation that a minor is being sexually abused. The dioceses also promptly report all past allegations of abuse to public authorities, whether or not the person bringing the complaint is now an adult, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred, and whether or not the accused is living or deceased.

When sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, deacon, employee or volunteer is established, diocesan policies provide that the offending priest, deacon, employee or volunteer is to be permanently removed from ministry, employment or volunteer service and that any such offending clergy may not be transferred to another diocese.

Each diocese has a victim assistance coordinator who facilitates the provision of counseling and other professional assistance to help those who have been abused. In addition, all victims have the opportunity to meet with the bishop in order to facilitate healing.

Claims of victims involving priests, deacons or others where the abuse has been established are settled by all New Jersey dioceses.

“We regret that in decades past, some in the Church failed in their responsibility to protect children. However, today, no institution, public or private, has done more to prevent abuse than the Catholic Church in New Jersey. We will remain vigilant to ensure a safe environment,” wrote the diocese.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.