Rev. Eugene Heyndricks, who was assigned by the Archdiocese of Newark to become the pastor of St. John Nepomucene parish in Guttenberg last November, was arrested by Montreal police on July 18 and charged with engaging in a sex act with a minor.
At the time, Heyndricks was traveling with Rev. William Giblin, the former headmaster at Seton Hall Prep, and Giblin was also arrested and charged with setting up the encounter.
Because of the arrest, the 60-year-old Heyndricks has resigned from his duties as pastor, as well as relinquished his rights to serve as a priest.
Since his arrival in November, devoted parishioners have applauded Heyndricks' efforts to restore the parish, as well as his demeanor as the parish leader.
"Everyone loved Father Gene," said Gloria Velez, a long-time parishioner. "He really made everyone feel like they belonged. He went out of his way to help people. You can really see the difference. More and more people have been coming to Mass."
But the news sickened Velez.
"It's disgusting and really hard to believe," Velez said. "I mean, no one could have figured this. But if he's guilty, then he should go to jail like anyone else. It really is amazing what has been happening in the Catholic Church." Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, was equally as shocked by Heyndricks' arrest.
"I'm very shocked that he was involved," the neighbor said. "He did a lot to bring attendance up at Mass. It had grown considerably. He motivated people to want to keep coming back to church. He was a light-hearted priest who had a nice way about him. He also went out of his way to help the community."
The neighbor said that he was impressed with the way Heyndricks allowed neighbors to park in the church parking lot overnight, because parking in the neighborhood is at a premium.
"He was only here for a short time, but he had a very good understanding of the community," the neighbor said. "It's very, very sad."
Press release from Montreal
According to a release from the Montreal police, Heyndricks and Giblin were nabbed in a part of the city that is regularly known for gay prostitution. They were the first two arrests in a sting set up to detract Americans from coming to Montreal seeking gay sex with underage prostitutes.
"The information we've gathered and developed throughout our investigation is that many of the clients of those teenagers were American people," said Ian LaFreniere, the spokesman for the Montreal police department. "It's a ring very well known across the border."
The area is called Plateau Mont-Royal, a Montreal district touted in guidebooks as perhaps the most gay-friendly neighborhood in North America.
James Goodness, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, said that neither Heyndricks nor Giblin had been previously accused of any sexual encounters.
"There were no complaints against either man," Goodness said. "These arrests came from out of the blue."
Goodness said that he would not speculate why the two priests were in Montreal, but he did say that there were not conducting church business and not attending any World Youth Day ceremonies, which Pope John Paul II visited in Toronto.
Goodness said that Archbishop John J. Myers was in Toronto when he received news of the arrests, and was "appalled and saddened" by the news.
Giblin was a well respected and beloved headmaster at Seton Hall Prep, from 1969 through 1980. He remained in residence there before leaving due to illness a few years ago, after having a liver transplant. He has been in residence at Holy Rosary Church in Edgewater since last year.
Seton Hall Prep named its theater in Giblin's honor a few years ago and gives out a scholarship in Giblin's name every year. School officials said that they have no plans yet to rename the theater or change the scholarship.
Officials at St. John Nepomucene refused to comment, referring all requests for interviews to the Archdiocesan office.
Parishioners at St. John Nepomucene said that the recent scandals will not keep them away from going to church.
"My feeling is that if someone wants to go to church, they're not going because of the priest," the anonymous neighbor said. "They're going to worship God. I don't think something like this brings the community down. It's a shock to hear, because he was such a community-minded person. It's a shock to the community. But it doesn't hurt the community."
"It doesn't change the way I feel about the parish," said Eduardo Sanchez, a North Bergen resident and long-time parishioner. "It just changes the way I look and feel about Father Gene. I don't know what's going on with priests these days, but it's totally sick and disgusting. It may change the way I feel about some priests, but it doesn't change the way I feel about my faith."