FLEMINGTON, N.J. – A priest described as having a pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior toward minors dating back 30 years was convicted Wednesday of molesting an altar boy.
The Rev. John Banko was the first New Jersey priest to be charged criminally in a sex case since the Roman Catholic church became embroiled in a national scandal this year.
After less than two days of deliberations, jurors convicted Banko of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment. The abuse of the boy, now 20, happened in St. Edwards Roman Catholic Church's community center in Milford.
Banko, 56, could get up to 35 years in prison at his sentencing Feb. 7. He did not react when the verdict was read.
The victim buried his head in his hands.
"We've waited a long time for this," the victim's mother said. "I'm just glad it's over. My son can get back to, maybe, a normal life."
Banko denied the charges when he testified Monday. But during cross-examination, he acknowledged sexual liaisons with men and women.
He also told investigators his vow of celibacy made no direct mention of abstaining from sex.
Prosecutors said he displayed a pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior toward minors 30 years ago, when he was in Baltimore's St. Mary's Seminary.
Banko was relieved of his priestly duties in 2000 after prosecutors alerted the Metuchen diocese of its investigation.
In a statement Wednesday, diocese spokesman Ronald C. Rak called Banko's actions "abhorrent" and said, "Such conduct on the part of anyone affiliated with the Diocese is not, and will not, be tolerated."
In another case involving clergy, retired priest George Michael Miller, 64, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Oxnard, Calif., for allegedly abusing two boys while serving at a Los Angeles church from 1973 to 1986, police said. It was the fifth time police had arrested an Archdiocese of Los Angeles priest.