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Protesters want Staten Island pastor removed
2 groups picket outside St. Charles Church against monsignor accused of molesting boy

Monday, March 15, 2004

In plain view of those entering and leaving each Sunday mass, 50 protesters from two sexual abuse victims support groups demanded yesterday outside St. Charles R.C. Church in Oakwood that Monsignor Thomas Gaffney be removed as pastor immediately.

Monsignor Gaffney, who is accused of abusing an altar boy 17 years ago, was not present. Deacon Stephen Tobon said the 79-year-old priest was hospitalized with liver problems and colitis.

Among the protesters were the parents, aunt and brother of Daniel O'Dougherty, a 29-year-old man from New Jersey who has accused Monsignor Gaffney of abusing him over a three-year period when he was an altar boy for the parish and a student at the parish school.

"[Daniel]'s not here. He's too emotional," said Cathy O'Dougherty, Daniel's mother. "Even I can't even look at the church right now."

Members of the groups Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests picketed across the street from St. Charles.

They wore lanyards displaying pictures of victims and waved placards bearing papal statements against sexual abuse within the clergy.

One statement, taken from Pope John Paul II's April 2002 address to the American cardinals, read: "...there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young."

"This just blows me away," said Frances Ouriti, a parishioner from the area, as she left mass. "Monsignor Gaffney is probably not the nicest person in personality, but for people to stoop this low to come out here and do this, I think it's disgraceful. I'm offended by it. He may not be the nicest person but he's a damn good priest."

The protesters cited the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Dallas Charter, adopted in 2002, which stipulates that a priest be removed from his parish after any credible sexual abuse charge is levied against him.

The Archdiocese of New York has sought to interview O'Dougherty since he first made the accusation to the Staten Island District Attorney's office in October 2003. The interview has not taken place, with each side claiming the other is trying to place too many restrictions on the meeting.

The archdiocese has cited the monsignor's long unblemished record, and the lack of a face-to-face meeting with O'Dougherty, as reasons for allowing the pastor to continue in his position.

"My son is a credible witness," said Dan O'Dougherty Sr., father of the alleged victim. "My son will submit himself for lie detector tests and everything. Would Monsignor Gaffney do the same?"

The monsignor has denied the charges, and in January filed a $2 million defamation of character lawsuit against O'Dougherty.

"All I have to say is, 'Innocent until proven guilty,'" said Lenny Buccellato, a longtime parishioner of St. Charles, as he and his daughters left mass. "We support the monsignor."

Melissa Anelli is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests