Catholic Priest Arrested in New Jersey for Child Endangerment

A Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Newark has been arrested on multiple counts of using a juvenile to commit a crime and multiple counts of child endangerment stemming from the cleric’s time as a chaplain at a private Catholic school. While the charges are not child sexual abuse per se, we see in them concerning signs of grooming behavior and call on Archdiocesan officials to do outreach and ensure there are no hidden victims.

According to reports, Rev. Salvatore DiStefano was working at Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, NJ, when he formed an exclusive student club, members of which were handpicked by the priest. The students who were part of the  “Knights of Malta” were subjected to inappropriate behavior from a man four times their age. In addition to sexually-focused conversations, Fr. DiStefano allegedly instructed students to hide their GPS locations so their parents would not know they were with him, gave students marijuana, and communicated with students secretly via text.

To us, this seems very clearly to be inappropriate grooming behavior. When adults in a position of power over children start exhibiting behavior like Fr. DiStefano’s – behavior that entices both friendship and secrecy – it can lead to further manipulation and abuse.

This is the 18th arrest of a Catholic staffer in the United States this year, showing that the clergy abuse scandal is not a thing of the past. This story is also a clear example of why reporting this kind of behavior to secular law enforcement is so critical. We are grateful to the brave victims who provided testimony and evidence to A.G. Gurbir Grewal’s clergy abuse task force and we are glad that those law enforcement professionals took the allegations seriously. Because of them, it is likely that more children were spared the dangerous effects of Fr. DiStefano’s influence.

Now, it is time for Catholic officials in the Archdiocese of Newark to do their part. They should ensure that all parents and alumni who were involved with the school while Fr. DiStefano was employed there are aware of the allegations and also encourage anyone with information to go to the A.G. and to the police. In addition, those Archdiocesan officials should also take a step that it is not clear that they have done to date    bar Fr. DiStefano from public ministry anywhere, not just from the school and parish where he was working when the accusations surfaced. Clearly, someone with this pattern of behavior should not be in a position of power ever again.

CONTACT: Mark Crawford, SNAP New Jersey (732-632-7687, mecrawf@comcast.net), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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