NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For nearly 40 years, Michael Meenan says he kept a painful secret.
But now, he’s going public with claims Bishop John Jenik, then his parish priest at Our Lady of Refuge parish in the Bronx, sexually abused him for most of his teenage years.
“We are talking about a disturbed and dangerous man who has no business being around young boys,” Meenan said.
Meenan shared his allegations against Jenik with the Lay Review Board for the archdiocese, which examines claims of sexual abuse against clergy.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan released its findings, stating “although the alleged incidents occurred decades ago, the Lay Review Board has concluded the evidence is sufficient to find the allegation credible and substantiated.
But Bishop Jenik says he is innocent.
In a letter to his parishioners, he said he is stepping aside from public ministry until the matter is settled.
“I continue to steadfastly deny that I have ever abused anyone at any time,” he wrote.
Many parishioners like Sal Siciliano are struggling with the claims against their trusted spiritual leader.
“I know him for 40 years, he’s been a great guy for the community,” Siciliano told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez. “It’s hard to believe. It’s impossible to believe.”
Victims advocates say the board’s decision on Meenan’s case is significant, and a positive shift in the Catholic church’s handling of sex abuse allegations.
“I think this is a major deal. But it is a major deal not because the church is being so generous so compassionate,” said Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery Inc. “But I think they’re now afraid of the fact that attorneys general and federal US attorneys and local authorities are now watching the church very carefully.”
Jenik is the first active bishop to be accused of abusing a minor since more than a dozen states including New York opened investigations of sex abuse and cover-ups by the Roman Catholic church this summer.
Federal investigators are instructing every diocese across the country to preserve all its documents related to sex abuse as part of a Department of Justice investigation.