The text messages read as if they’ve been ripped from a pornographic novel.
Matthew Riedlinger quizzed his texting partner about sex videos, pressed for details about intimate liaisons, described sexual acts and encouraged mutual masturbation.
He also repeatedly asked to meet.
“Promise me you will never breath (sic) a word of this to anyone — ok?” he wrote.
Riedlinger had good reason for discretion.
He is a priest of the Diocese of Trenton, and while exchanging more than 1,200 text messages over four weeks last year, he thought was he talking to a 16-year-old boy.
Riedlinger, at the time an assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson and a sex-education teacher at the parish school, was the target of an elaborate sting by a Catholic University of America graduate who says the priest sexually harassed him for years.
Timothy Schmalz, now 23 and a resident of Washington, D.C., said he was moved to action after his first complaint about Riedlinger in 2011 resulted in what he characterized as a slap on the wrist by Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell.
Schmalz is one of five young men who provided The Star-Ledger with similar accounts of harassment and sexual obsession by the priest. Four of the five were in their late teens or early 20s when Riedlinger began inappropriate and persistent sexual dialogues with them, they said. The fifth was in his late 20s.
The sting, initiated on Facebook and carried out through the use of a Google Voice account, partially served its purpose.
After Schmalz forwarded transcripts of the text messages and other materials to O’Connell in August 2012, the bishop removed Riedlinger from the parish, placed him in an in-patient treatment program and later assigned him to restricted ministry away from children, the diocese confirmed.
But for more than a year, O’Connell refused to tell parishioners at St. Aloysius why the priest had been pulled, an omission that advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse call a flagrant violation of the church’s pledge of transparency.
Moreover, the former pastor, the Rev. Kevin Keelan, chastised parishioners for asking questions about Riedlinger’s removal, saying in the church bulletin that “blabbing” was a sin and that they were not entitled to more information.
O’Connell informed parishioners of the complaints in a statement only last weekend, a day after The Star-Ledger questioned the diocese about Riedlinger and the decision to withhold information about the allegations.
Even then, the statement makes no mention of the fact that Riedlinger believed he was corresponding with a 16-year-old boy during sexually explicit conversations.
“Father Riedlinger has been the subject of two complaints to the diocese over the past few years regarding his participation in inappropriate cell phone text communication over a period of some years with adults,” according to the statement, which was read aloud at weekend Masses. “There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints.”
The statement called Riedlinger’s behavior “deeply troubling” and said it is “in no way to be tolerated in the life and ministry of a priest.”
O’Connell declined to be interviewed for this story.
Riedlinger, a 30-year-old Ohio native, could not be reached by phone and did not respond to a request for comment sent to his personal e-mail address. In recent months, he has been living at the Villa Vianney retirement home for priests in Lawrenceville and tending to the needs of retired Bishop John M. Smith.
On Monday, he was granted a leave from the priesthood.
“Determining that media coverage will impede his efforts to recover from the problems that have unfolded, Father Riedlinger has decided to leave the diocese and has asked for an indefinite leave of absence from the priesthood,” Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said in a statement. “Bishop O’Connell has granted his request, effective immediately.”
Read the full story at NJ.com (Sept. 29, 2013)
➽ Sexting priest suspended from ministry; Trenton bishop apologizes (PDF) (Oct. 4, 2013)
A Roman Catholic priest caught up in a sexting sting last year with someone he thought to be a 16-year-old boy has been suspended from the priesthood by Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell, who called the man’s behavior “a betrayal of trust and confidence.”
The Rev. Matthew Riedlinger, 30, formerly an assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson, may not serve as a priest in any capacity and may not wear clerical garb, O’Connell said in a statement.
Riedlinger’s actions, which include inappropriate texting conversations with young adults, “have clearly contravened his priestly vows and, although given ample opportunity to atone for his actions and to get help for his problems, he has failed to do so,” O’Connell said.
The bishop said he will consult with the Vatican about what to do next. O’Connell could seek to remove Riedlinger from the priesthood altogether, a process known as laicization. (More)
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