New York grand jury says church
lied to victims of abuse
By NOREEN O'DONNELL - THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: June 19, 2002)
WHITE PLAINS A Westchester County grand jury described
a Roman Catholic Church lying to its congregations and humiliating
victims of sexual abuse, in a damning report released yesterday
that recommends making it a crime to allow abusive clergy
to be around children.
The panel, convened by District Attorney Jeanine Pirro in
April to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Roman
Catholic clergy in Westchester, did not indict any priests,
and it was unclear yesterday whether any charges would ever
"I think the grand jury clearly was frustrated that
the statute of limitations precluded us from going forward
on what were clearly prosecutable cases," Pirro said
The report, the first New York grand jury action in the current
scandal, asks the state Legislature to amend the law to provide
criminal penalties for permitting a clergy member with a record
of child sexual abuse to have access to minors. It also says
the statute of limitations should be eliminated in cases where
the victim of a sex offense is a minor.
"I think it's a very realistic assessment of what needs
to be done," Pirro said, adding that legal changes are
necessary to ensure such sexual abuses do not happen again.
During the spring, under pressure from district attorneys
in the area, the church's New York Archdiocese turned over
40 years' worth of accusations against priests.
But from the beginning, it was clear that most of the information
was too old to result in indictments. The statute of limitations
for prosecuting sex abuse cases is generally five years, though
for minors it is now five years after a victim's 18th birthday.
The scandal that started at the beginning of the year in
Boston has resulted in the removal of more than a half-dozen
priests in the New York Archdiocese from their assignments.
Among them were the Rev. Gennaro Gentile and the Rev. Kenneth
Jesselli, both at one time at Holy Name of Mary Church in
Croton-on-Hudson. Gentile was accused by at least four families
in the parish of touching boys improperly; the allegations
against Jesselli were not made public.
A law enforcement source told The Journal News last month
that the District Attorney's Office had seized two church
computers from Holy Name of Mary, including Jesselli's personal
laptop and a parish computer that was available to both priests.
It is not known whether any evidence was found on the computers.
Pirro's office would not say whether any other grand juries
were investigating allegations against priests.
The grand jury heard from 21 witnesses, including eight victims
of sexual abuse or misconduct. Its 13-page report does not
actually name the Catholic Church, because the grand jury
was prohibited by law from singling out any individuals or
Included in its findings:
One member of the clergy was given routine injections
of the chemical castration drug Depo-Provera and was sent
back to the community as if cured. No supervisor was told,
making monitoring impossible.
None of the victims was directed to law enforcement
authorities, leading the grand jury to infer that "this
was an orchestrated effort to protect abusing clergy members
from investigation, arrest and prosecution by civil authorities."
In one case, a high-level official appeared before
a congregation to vouch for an alleged abuser against whom
multiple accusations had been made.
The official is not identified, but the details are similar
to what occurred after Croton parishioners Vincent Nauheimer
Sr. and Patricia Nauheimer filed a civil lawsuit against Gentile
on behalf of their sons. The archdiocese's vice chancellor
for priest personnel, Monsignor Edward D. O'Donnell, appeared
at the church to tell parishioners that the charges against
Gentile were unfounded.
The grand jury also recommends that the state Legislature
require clergy to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors
to law enforcement immediately. Such a bill already has been
introduced in Albany, though it appears stalled. The New York
Archdiocese has vowed to report allegations to civil authorities.
Finally, the report recommends that the state prohibit confidentiality
agreements when settling claims of sexual abuse involving
minors, a provision that Roman Catholic U.S. bishops adopted
when they met in Dallas last week.