August 17, 2011 / 5:29 PM / 9 years ago

Trenton diocese pays $1 million settlement in sexual abuse case

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Catholic Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, has agreed to pay $1 million to five men who said they were molested by a priest when they were altar boys, their attorney said on Wednesday.

The molestations, which took place in the 1970s and 80s when the victims were 11 to 16 years old, involved the Reverend Ronald Becker, who died in 2009, said lawyer Mitchell Garabedian.

Becker was a priest at Incarnation Church and school in suburban Ewing, New Jersey, where he would take the boys out of church school classrooms to molest them, he said.

“Father Becker told the children that it was God’s way of showing God’s love, and that the matter should be kept secret,” Garabedian said.

“Father Becker has ruined lives, the lives of innocent children,” the lawyer said.

The diocese said in a statement that the first complaint about inappropriate conduct by Becker came in 1989, and the church removed him from ministry and sent him for medical treatment.

Subsequently it put him in an administrative role at diocese headquarters. He was barred from ministry in 2002 and prohibited from presenting himself as a priest, it said.

One victim, Otis Roberts, spoke outside the diocese headquarters, where he said: “I’ve often wondered why I am the way I am, not very happy or motivated, never really been in love.”

“I do believe there is a God, and he chose me to expose these so-called messengers, who really are not,” he said.

“Financial compensation in itself is inadequate to make up for the harm done to me and my friends and how I am today,” he said.

Roberts said the molestation began when he was 11.

Garabedian said the church was negligent in supervising children at the parish, and that Becker removing boys from their classrooms should have been a tip-off to his misconduct.

Becker was accused by his own niece, Jenni Franz, of molesting her numerous times, and the diocese paid out $325,000 in that case. Roberts said he was motivated to come forward after Franz went public.

According to the website called Bishop Accountability, which tracks and documents Catholic Church abuse cases, the Trenton diocese previously paid out $926,000 in settlements and victim counseling costs and 25 priests in the diocese have substantiated allegations against them.

The nearby Archdiocese of Philadelphia also has been rocked by a pedophilia scandal. It faces several civil lawsuits, and three priests, a monsignor and a Catholic school teacher also face criminal charges, including rape.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton

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