Metuchen diocese suspends priest with close connection to Bootkoski

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in Metuchen, NJ. Credit: Farragutful/wikimedia. cc by sa 4.0 
St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in Metuchen, NJ. Credit: Farragutful/wikimedia. cc by sa 4.0 

.- The Diocese of Metuchen has temporarily removed a priest from parish ministry while it reexamines the handling of misconduct allegations made against him.

The priest, Fr. Alfonso R. Condorson, was ordained in 1995 in the Archdiocese of Newark by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Condorson, previously known as Alfonso de Condorpusa, held parish assignments in the archdiocese before transferring to the Diocese of Metuchen in 2004. He was permanently incardinated in the Metuchen diocese in 2008. Condorson is now listed as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Bound Brook, NJ.

The priest was born in Lima, Peru in 1967. According to a 2015 report in Metuchen’s diocesan newspaper, he “settled in Maryland” in 1967, and became a U.S. citizen around 1998.

Condorson has a long-standing relationship with Metuchen’s Bishop Emeritus Paul Bootkoski, who sold in 2015 a New Jersey property to the priest for $1. Bootkoski, who authorized settlements to alleged victims of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, became Bishop of Metuchen in 2002. He was also chief aide to McCarrick during the latter’s tenure as Archbishop of Newark.

The diocese is now reviewing how two allegations made against the priest were handled.

In 1997, Condorson was accused of making unwanted sexual advances on a 24-year-old male parishioner. CNA has spoken with a New Jersey man who says he was the victim of unwanted sexual advances from Condorson in that year, while the priest was assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Hackensack, NJ.

The man, who requested anonymity because of the nature of the allegations and citing fears of repercussions to his business, spoke with CNA about the incident, which he says occurred while he was vacationing in Cancun with Condorson, in late September or early October of 1997.

He explained that Condorson was a family friend. “He had never been physical with me” in an overtly sexual way before the incident in Cancun, the man said, though he recalled at least one episode of “rough house” play that was, he said, uncomfortable.

“Then, one night” in Mexico, “in a taxi — after drinking, it was 1 or 2 in the morning — he rested his head on my shoulder. I thought he was tired, or couldn’t hold his liquor. Then, he put his hand on my knee. I hit him in the head with my camera, which snapped a picture.” CNA has obtained a digital copy of the image, but has not seen the original or independently verified the identities of the two men depicted in it.

“When we got back to the hotel, he said, "that’s when it all started.”

The man alleged that once they were back in the hotel room, “[Condorson] started mumbling something about ‘please don’t judge me’.” He went on to say, “how much he loved me, how he wanted to kiss me — had always wanted to kiss me — always been in love with me.”

The man says he responded to Condorson with “complete silence.” He told CNA that Condorson asked him not to say anything about the incident, and that it took several weeks for him to confide in his parents what had happened while he had been on vacation. The parents had noticed his agitation and aloofness, especially around Condorson, who continued to call on the family at home.

The man says his family reported the incident to Bishop Charles McDonnell, an auxiliary bishop of Newark and the pastor of Holy Trinity Parish, where Condorson was stationed. The alleged victim's father, who also spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, said that the archdiocese “fought us all they way to the end.”

Condorson left Holy Trinity eventually — in June of 1998, sources close to the episode recall — but only after the family of the man making the allegations threatened to sue. The family says they ultimately decided not to file a lawsuit. “I never wanted money,” the man making the allegations told CNA.

Bootkoski was vicar general of the Newark archdiocese when that allegation was reported.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark told CNA: “The Archdiocese investigated fully the allegation at Holy Trinity according to the protocols in place in the Archdiocese at that time for allegations of misconduct involving adults. The allegation could not be substantiated. The individual who made the accusation did state that nothing sexual had occurred. During that time, Fr. De Condorpusa underwent evaluation by competent professionals who were aware of the accusation. Those professionals concluded that there was no reason to limit or halt his ministry.”

The Newark archdiocese added that “since Bishop Bootkoski of Metuchen was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Newark at the time of the allegation, the Diocese was aware of both the allegation and the results of the investigation.”

The Diocese of Metuchen provided CNA with a statement saying that the alleged incident happened while Condorson was a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, and was investigated by that diocese.

“The Archdiocese had an investigation which included interviews with both Fr. Condorson and the claimant, both adults. As Vicar General, Bishop Bootkoski said he was informed of the investigation by the pastor of the parish and a former pastor, also a Vicar General for the archdiocese, who both had knowledge of the situation. Based on the testimony of the two men, at that time, Bishop Bootkoski says he was informed they had conflicting accounts of what had occurred, both lacking any hard facts. The claimant, who was an adult, and his family did not pursue the matter,” the diocese said.

In 2008, a New Jersey man wrote to Archbishop John Myers of Newark and to Bootkoski, alleging that in the summer of 1997 Condoron asked him for help with computer repairs in the Holy Trinity rectory. He said that after the work was completed, the priest “requested that I stay and have a glass of wine with him.”

“Father De Condorpusa sat next to me on the love seat and took off his collar and shoes. We briefly discussed the repair of his computer when suddenly he placed his arm around me and tried to kiss me. I was shocked, got up, and asked him what he was doing.”

“He said to me, ‘I thought you wanted it, I like older men,’” the man alleged.

The Archdiocese of Newark told CNA that “the only correspondence in the Archdiocese of Newark’s files during the year 2008 relates to Fr. De Condorpusa’s request for incardination into the Metuchen Diocese.”

The Diocese of Metuchen told CNA that it did receive the 2008 allegation, and reported the matter to the county prosecutor soon after being informed. It also said its “Diocesan Response Officer” contacted “the accuser to offer to meet to discuss the letter and provided the phone number of the proper county prosecutor for reporting Fr. Condorson.”

“Having met with the accuser and no additional information being provided, and no action being taken by the prosecutor, in light of Father’s denial there was no basis for continuing the inquiry.”

The Diocese of Metuchen told CNA this week that Condorson would be withdrawn from parish ministry at the directive of its current bishop, Rev. James Checchio.

“Bishop Checchio, given the challenges involved in reviewing the allegations that are two decades old, directed Father Condorson to step aside from his parish responsibilities pending the diocese’s review of the entire matter,” a diocesan spokesperson told CNA.

Priests of Metuchen have praised the leadership of Checchio, who took over the diocese in 2016. Speaking off-record, several area priests have said told CNA they find his leadership trustworthy, and a change from Bootkoski’s administration.

A clerical source inside the diocese told CNA Condorson's close relationship with Bootkoski made the priest difficult to trust.

In response to questions about their relationship, the Diocese of Metuchen told CNA that Bootkoski “categorically denies” any accusations of impropriety in the relationship.

“According to Bishop Bootkoski, the two men are longtime friends. Any reports to the contrary are inaccurate, untrue and unfounded,” the diocese said.

On file with the Sussex County clerk’s office is a deed dated June 11, 2015, in which Bootkoski ceded interest in property located at 4 Pine Point Lane, Stanhope, NJ, to Condorson, for total consideration of $1.

Bootkoski had acquired the property in 1988 for $130,000. The net assessed value of the property — land and improvements — is currently listed at NJParcels.com as $193,900. The property carries an annual tax burden between $6,000 and $7,000. The deed — recording the sale of the property for $1 — is dated June 11, 2015 and was registered with the Sussex County clerk’s office June 22, 2015.

The Diocese of Metuchen told CNA that Bootkoski decided to give the house to Condorson after deciding that he no longer had need of it, and after his family declined interest in it.

“Bishop Bootkoski was a longtime friend of [Condorson’s], having known him before he went in to seminary from his parish assignment in Elizabeth, NJ,” the diocese said. Bootkoski was pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Elizabeth from 1983-1990.

“When planning his will with a lawyer, he was advised to sell it to him for $1, rather than include it in his estate. So he did.”

As Bishop of Metuchen, Bootkoski authorized settlements in 2005 and 2007 to former priests who say they were sexually assaulted by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who himself led the Metuchen diocese before becoming Newark’s archbishop, and then Washington’s.

Bootkoski recently stated that he informed Church authorities about reports of McCarrick’s misconduct shortly after receiving them, though the New York Times has reported that the Diocese of Metuchen was aware of allegations years before the settlements were made.

In 2015, less than a year before Pope Francis accepted his letter of resignation for limits of age, Bootkoski made Condorson the director of the diocesan office for Hispanic ministry.

In the same year, Bootkoski sold Condorson the New Jersey property.

Condorson did not respond to requests for comment.

CNA staff contributed to the reporting of this story.

Tags: Catholic News, Diocese of Metuchen, Bishop Paul Bootkoski