Priest personnel files released in California court case reveal alleged abuser in N.J.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger/August 1, 2013

By Mark Mueller

A court-ordered release of personnel files involving religious-order clergy members in California has revealed the name of another New Jersey priest accused of sexual abuse.

The Rev. Joseph Di Peri, now deceased, was removed from ministry in New Jersey in 2003 after the Archdiocese of Newark learned he had been credibly accused of molesting a teenage boy in the late 1970s at Chaminade College Preparatory High School in West Hills, Calif.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Di Peri was serving a one-year stint as a teacher and dorm chaplain at the school, run by the Marianists, an order of brothers and priests.

Former Archbishop Peter Gerety granted him leave from Newark after Di Peri told him he would benefit from a warmer climate because of health concerns, the 27-page personnel file shows.

Despite Di Peri’s removal from ministry, the archdiocese did not publicly disclose the allegations or the fact that he had been placed under a "permanent monitoring system," according to the files. The documents indicate he was living in a retirement home in the Diocese of Trenton.

Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse sharply criticized the decision to keep silent, contending it shows the church continues to put its own reputation ahead of the safety of children.

"Why are Catholic officials only now releasing this information, and doing so only because they’re required to do so because of a settlement of clergy child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits?" asked David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy and support group.

"We urge New Jersey Catholic officials to come clean about proven, admitted and credibly accused child molester clerics who live or work in the state, regardless of where they are, where they molested and which Catholic entity signs their paychecks," Clohessy added. "Secrecy around sex offenders protects sex offenders. Openness about child molesters protects children."

Di Peri, who died in 2007 at age 76, served in a variety of positions and parishes in New Jersey, including churches in Jersey City, Newark and Garfield. He also was a teacher at Oratory Preparatory School in Summit and a principal at St. Cecilia’s School in Englewood.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said he was unaware of any other abuse claims against Di Peri. But Robert Hoatson, another advocate for sex-abuse victims, said Di Peri’s transfer to California appears to fit a pattern that was common at the time: shifting abusive priests from diocese to diocese.

"Once again, it appears that an abusive priest was allowed to leave the East Coast under the guise of health issues to serve on the West Coast," Hoatson said. "In short order, the priest was engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor in Los Angeles."

Di Peri’s personnel file was among 1,700 pages of documents released Wednesday by the Marianists and other religious orders. The papers identified 10 abusive brothers and priests, along with two nuns. A judge ordered the files released following a suit by abuse victims.

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