Cardinal Gives Boot to N.Y. 'Suspect' Six

New York Post/April 8, 2002
By Cathy Burke

Six New York-area Catholic priests tainted by sexual-misconduct charges have been asked by Edward Cardinal Egan to leave their jobs, church officials said last night.

The six were on a list of alleged sexual predators from the Archdiocese of New York - the nation's third largest - sent to Manhattan prosecutors last week, officials said.

None of the priests was named in a statement by archdiocese officials last night, and not all worked in parishes, officials said. Not all the charges have been substantiated, they added.

But parishioners at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson, Westchester, learned at Mass yesterday that their administrator, the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli, had been replaced due to "an allegation of inappropriate behavior from the past," parish council member Joseph Lally said.

The action by Egan was the latest in a ballooning sexual-abuse scandal that has rocked Roman Catholics around the country.

Since January, dozens of priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign.

Catholic bishops and cardinals, including Egan and Brooklyn's Bishop Thomas Daily, have since been criticized for how they have handled the problem.

"The priests in question have been informed that they are not to present themselves as priests or exercise their priestly ministry publicly at least until the matter is further clarified or resolved," last night's terse statement from the archdiocese said.

The statement said information about the six priests had been included in "information forwarded earlier this week . . . to District Attorney Robert Morgenthau."

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling refused further comment.

The news of Jesselli's removal hit Holy Name of Mary parishioners like a thunderbolt.

"Nobody knew," Lally said, adding that the replacement priest, the Rev. Michael Keane, "expressed the understanding at how upsetting this was to the parish. Basically, he asked us to pray for Father Jesselli."

The removal of Jesselli was a double whammy for the parish, where the Rev. Gennaro Gentile also had been accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit alleging he inappropriately touched two teens. The lawsuit was recently settled.

Jesselli was brought into the parish just a year and a half ago to replace the shamed priest, Lally noted.

"We've been unsettled here in the last few months, where we've had two men who've done wonderful work with the parishioners, but then there are these allegations," Lally said. "Father Ken is really a shock . . . I had no hint of anything like that."

The Archdiocese of New York oversees 405 parishes, representing 2.4 million Catholics, in Manhattan, Staten Island, The Bronx and upstate.

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