rocked the Church earlier this year ended Dec. 11 with the conviction of Father John M. Banko
on charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and third-degree child endangerment.
The outcome was hailed by those connected with the case as a textbook example of how through full disclosure of information and cooperation between the Church and law enforcement, abusive priests can be brought to justice. Father Banko's conviction was based on incidents dating back approximately nine years when he was pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Parish, Milford.
After less than two days of jury deliberations, Father Banko was found guilty of sexually abusing an 11-year-old altar boy on two consecutive Sundays in the sacristy of St. Edward the Confessor Church, where he served from 1989-95.Father John M. BankoHe
is currently being held in the Hunterdon County Jail, Flemington.Sentencing is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 7.Father Banko
, who was ordained three decades ago in St. Mary Cathedral
, Trenton, faces up to 20 years in prison.Additionally, diocesan officials are preparing to explore the canonical implications of Father Banko's
has been, and is currently, suspended from active ministry indefinitely. Upon hearing the verdict, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski stated, "The criminal conviction of Father Banko brings closure to one aspect of what certainly has been a painful ordeal for so many, the first of which are the victim here and his family.
The diocese also responded to the conviction with a statement that apologized to the victims of Father Banko's
crimes.In that statement, Ronald C. Rak, diocesan general secretary for administrative and legal services, characterized Father Banko's conduct as "abhorrent" and said that such conduct by anyone affiliated with the diocese "is not and will not be tolerated."
...In an interview with The Catholic Spirit, assistant prosecutor Dawn Solari praised the diocese for fully cooperating with the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office throughout the three-year investigation of Father Banko.
...After speaking with the victim, Hunterdon County detectives interviewed numerous members of St. Edward the Confessor Parish, as well as St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Skillman, where Father Banko was founding pastor and served from 1982-89, and Mary, Mother of God Parish, Hillsborough, where he was associate pastor from 1996-2000. Father Banko
was also interviewed during the investigation, but denied all allegations, Solari said.
While consistently denying any wrongdoing with the victim, Father Banko
admitted to having sexual relations with men and women.At the trial, he
testified that the "promise of celibacy" he
took when he
was ordained does not directly mention abstaining from sex.Instead, as he
sees it, the promise simply meant he
must devote his
life to the Church and could never marry.
The diocese was first notified of the abuse allegations against the priest in April, 2000, at which point Father Banko
was immediately suspended from active ministry.At the time of the suspension, Father Banko
had already taken a leave of absence from Mary, Mother of God Parish
to care for his
In regard to any canonical proceedings that might be taken against Father Banko
...Prior to the founding of the Diocese of Metuchen, Father Banko served the Trenton Diocese as associate pastor in St. Mary of the Lake, Lakewood, from 1972-74, and chaplain in the now defunct St. Pius X High School, Piscataway, from 1974-82.
In addition to the victim, three other witnesses testified during the trial that Father Banko
made sexual advances toward them when they were minors.
One witness knew Father Banko
from St. Charles Borromeo Parish
, while another was a member of St. Edward
the Confessor Parish
.Both witnesses, now in their 30s, spoke of Father Banko's
inappropriate conduct, which ranged from serving them alcohol to grabbing their buttocks.
The third witness told the court that he
was molested by the priest for 10 years, beginning around 1972, when Father Banko
was a seminarian in St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore
.Prior to the trial, the victim had reported the abuse by his
former religious education tutor to the Archdiocese of Baltimore
Following this lead, and ultimately securing the accuser as a key witness in the case, turned out to be a "significant" factor in Father Banko's
conviction, said Solari.
These include the victim's extended family and friends, Father Banko's
family, and Banko's former parishioners, among others.
"An entire community was devastated by these selfish acts," he
...Father John P. Bambrick, who was, himself, abused by a priest and is now a representative of the New Jersey chapter of SNAP (Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests), attended Father Banko's trial as a show of support for the victim.