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Victims group chides diocese after sexting scandal

7:51 AM, Oct 2, 2013   |    comments
The Monitor, the newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., published this photo of Matthew Riedlinger with a story on his pending ordination in June 2010. The diocese has since removed the picture from the story.(Photo: Diocese of Trenton, N.J.)
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JACKSON, N.J. (ASBURY PARK PRESS)- A national organization that represents victims of sexual abuse by priests has criticized the Diocese of Trenton for delaying notification to a local congregation about a resident priest's sexting scandal.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, better known as SNAP, condemned the diocese's yearlong delay between removing the Rev. Matthew Riedlinger from St. Aloysius Church in Jackson and notifying the congregation of the reason.

STORY: N.J. priest takes leave of absence after sexting

Riedlinger, 30, took a leave of absence from the priesthood after having a sexual cell phone text conversation with a man he reportedly thought was a 16-year-old boy.

After the diocese received initial complaints about Riedlinger's inappropriate sexual conversations, he entered outpatient treatment, according to church leadership. In August 2012, the Diocese of Trenton removed him from his Jackson post after church officials learned that he continued to have sexual text conversations.

Just last week, the diocese notified the St. Aloysuis congregation as the scandal became public.

In a statement posted on the SNAP website, the organization decried the delay.

"It's reckless to keep clergy sexual misdeeds hidden and it's deceitful to tell only one parish - out of 109 parishes - about Fr. Riedlinger's sexual misdeeds," SNAP officials said in a statement.

"It's just very careless and reckless for them to do this and not tell anybody," Judy Jones, SNAP's Midwest associate director, said in a telephone interview Tuesday . "Why wouldn't they let parents know?.. They should have made this public as soon as they learned about it."

But the diocese defended its actions.

"There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints," read a prepared statement from the diocese. "From first being made aware of these charges, the diocese addressed the misconduct with Father Riedlinger, arranging for him to receive outpatient counseling. When we learned that the conduct had persisted, he was immediately removed from his parish assignment and placed in a residential, inpatient treatment program."

Diocese spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett said after Riedlinger's inpatient treatment program, he went to live at the Villa Vianney retirement home for priests in Lawrenceville, where his ongoing treatment was overseen by the diocese.

Since his leave of absence from the priesthood, Riedlinger's treatment is no longer under the church's care and he is no longer living at Villa Vianney, Bennett said.

Timothy Schmalz, 23, of Washington D.C. attempted to oust Riedlinger by pretending online to be a 16-year-old boy, then forwarded the conversations to the diocese, according to the Star-Ledger. The diocese reported the matter to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, which launched an investigation in August 2012. Schmalz's efforts were not sufficient for law enforcement to press charges. Schmalz has declined an interview with the Asbury Park Press.

At the time, detectives concluded the incident took place outside of the county's jurisdiction and were unable to pursue charges, said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

"There are very specific guidelines for certified law enforcement officers who are conducting these types of investigations in terms of lines of questioning, and obviously that civilian person was not trained in any of those things," Della Fave said.

The investigation concluded while former county Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford led the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

The incident shows why sexual abuse laws needs to be changed, said Jones, the SNAP associate director.

"He (Riedlinger) didn't know that he wasn't talking to a minor," said Jones. "He needs to be put in a secure treatment place where he can have no access to computers...or texting."

Riedlinger did not return an email for comment. He is no longer living in New Jersey, a church administrator said Sunday.

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