NY auxiliary bishop is credibly accused of sexual abuse

St Patricks Cathedral in New York City Credit Richard Trois via Flickr CC BY NC 20 CNA 11 5 14 St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. | Patrick Trois via Flickr

A New York auxiliary bishop has been credibly accused of sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of New York has reported. The bishop maintains his innocence.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced in an Oct. 29 letter to parishioners of a Bronx parish that Bishop John Jenik, 74 had been accused of "an allegation of inappropriate behavior with one person was brought against Bishop Jenik, who has served at Our Lady of Refuge since 1978."

"This was the first time any such allegation about him was ever made," Dolan added.

Dolan's letter, which was posted Oct. 31 on the Archdiocese of New York's website, explained that the claim was reviewed by the diocesan lay review board, which concluded "the evidence is sufficient to find the allegation credible and substantiated."

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the alleged victim is Michael Meenan, 52, who said that he met Jenik in 1978, at Our Lady of Refuge parish. Meenan was then around 13 years old.

Meenan said Jenik, who was then a priest but not yet a bishop, developed a relationship with him that eventually led to more than 70 unsupervised overnight visits to an upstate NY home owned by Jenik. At that home, Meenan said, Jenik served him alcohol, and one at least one occassion touched him inappropriately while the pair shared a bed.

Meenan said that his parents trusted Jenik, and permitted the overnight visits for that reason.

The case will be reviewed by the Vatican, most likely at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sources says, before being passed to Pope Francis for judgment. Canon law establishes that only the pope may judge a penal matter involving a bishop, unless the pope delegates that responsibility elsewhere.

Dolan's letter to Our Lady of Refuge did not offer specifics regarding the allegation, but a subsequent statement posted on the archdiocesan website indicated that bishop is charged with sexually abusing a minor.

"Although Bishop Jenik, loyal priest that he is, he has stepped aside from public ministry, and, as we await Rome's review, may not function or present himself as a bishop or priest," Dolan wrote.

Jenik also wrote a letter to the parishioners of Our Lady of Refuge, the parish at which he has served as pastor since 1985.

"While I have the utmost respect for both the IRCP and the Review Board, and I know that they have a great burden as they confront the evil of sexual abuse, I continue to steadfastly deny that I have ever abused anyone at any time. Therefore, I will ask the Vatican, which has ultimate jurisdiction over such cases, to review the matter, with the hope of ultimately proving my innocence," Jenik wrote.

"In the meantime, I will abide by the protocols of the archdiocese's policy, and will not be publicly exercising my ministry," he wrote, adding that he would be "stepping aside and moving as pastor of Our Lady of Refuge until the matter is settled."

The bishop asked parishioners to pray for the person who had accused him of abuse, and "for all those who are victim-survivors of abuse."

Jenik has been an auxiliary bishop in New York since 2014. A New York Daily News profile published shortly before he was consecrated a bishop, said that Jenik is known in the Bronx as an advocate for affordable housing, and an opponent of drug dealers in his parish neighborhood.

Dolan encouraged those with allegations or concerns about Jenik to contact the Bronx District Attorney and the Victim Assistance Coordinator  in the Archdiocese of New York.

This story is developing and has been updated.

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