Priest removed from parish after abuse allegation

The Philadelphia Inquirer/May 11, 2010

An elderly priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who served at 11 parishes and a high school was removed from Stella Maris parish in South Philadelphia last week pending an inquiry into recent allegations that he had sexually abused a minor more than 40 years ago.

Cardinal Justin Rigali also notified Chester County law enforcement authorities of the allegation against Msgr. George J. Mazzotta, 72, according to archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell. She said this was the only abuse allegation the archdiocese had received against him.

Mazzotta was a parochial vicar, or assisting priest, at St. Joseph parish in Downingtown, Chester County, from 1966 to 1971, his first assignment after ordination. He served in the same capacity at Stella Maris, at 10th and Bigler Streets.

Pending the investigation, Mazzotta will live at Villa St. Joseph in Darby, the archdiocesan home for retired priests. Farrell said the move did not mean the archdiocese had concluded the allegation was true.

Mazzotta's removal and the reason for it were announced at Sunday's Masses.

"I was devastated," a parishioner, who asked not to be identified, said Monday. "He's a good person."

Most other residents of the rowhouse neighborhood, which is near the city sports complex, said they did not know Mazzotta.

One man, who said his children attend the parish school, expressed indignation that a victim would wait 40 years to report abuse. A woman who lived nearby expressed concern that if Mazzotta had abused once, he might have had other victims. Both declined to give their names.

The archdiocese provided no particulars on the alleged abuse or the person who made the allegation.

Several people who had heard the allegation declined to comment.

Mazzotta was not among the 63 priests named in a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese during the previous 50 years. The explosive report led to changes in Pennsylvania law, including the elimination of the statute of limitations for child-abuse cases.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a national advocacy group, criticized the archdiocese on Monday for not urging victims to contact law enforcement officials.

Rigali "should focus on prodding victims, witnesses, and whistle-blowers to call police immediately," the group said. "It's wrong to continue urging people to call church authorities instead of secular authorities."

Following his time in Downingtown, Mazzotta served at Epiphany of Our Lord parish in Philadelphia and St. Maria Goretti High School from 1971 to 1976; St. Gabriel, Philadelphia, from 1976 to 1978; St. Clement, Philadelphia, from 1978 to 1980; St. Eugene, Primos, from 1980 to 1985; St. Paul, Norristown, from 1985 to 1988; SS. Cosmas and Damien, Conshohocken, in 1988; St. Robert Bellarmine, Warrington, 1988 to 1990; Mother of Divine Grace, Philadelphia, 1990 to 1997; and St. Madeline, Ridley Park, 1997 to 2008.

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