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The Nation

Priest Charged in Boy's Rape

Religion: Extradition of Father Ferraro to Boston, in a case two decades old, adds to the furor over sex abuse.

April 03, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — The scandal over clerical sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church gathered new momentum as an ordained priest was arraigned Tuesday in New York, charged with raping a boy in Massachusetts more than two decades ago.

After his arrest Monday on a fugitive warrant, Father Romano Ferraro of Queens, N.Y., became the first priest to face extradition to Massachusetts since the January trial here of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan unleashed worldwide controversy over pedophilia in the Catholic Church.

The furor prompted public apologies from officials as prominent as Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, the highest-ranking prelate in the United States. Church officials also have engaged in unprecedented collaboration with local authorities, handing over the names of hundreds of clergy members suspected of abuse.

Ferraro, 67, is being held without bail in New York. Massachusetts officials were uncertain Tuesday when he would be brought here.

Ferraro never held a post in the Boston Archdiocese, which sits at the center of a storm that has gained steady force since church officials admitted in court documents that, despite knowing some priests were molesting children, they did nothing to stop the abuse.

The district attorney's office here said Ferraro is accused of raping and sexually assaulting a boy while visiting in Billerica, north of Boston, from 1973 to 1980, when the victim was 7 to 13 years old.

A former Navy chaplain who also worked as a priest in New Jersey, Ferraro has served at five parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He was suspended of all duties about 12 years ago after a separate allegation of sexual misconduct in Queens, diocese spokesman Frank DeRosa said.

DeRosa said Ferraro had received counseling after the 1988 allegation. He was uncertain what function within the church Ferraro had been playing since then.

Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for Middlesex County Dist. Atty. Martha Coakley, said the Boston victim, now 35 years old, reported the alleged abuse by Ferraro to the district attorney's child abuse unit last fall, before the Geoghan case unfolded.

Geoghan is serving a sentence of up to 10 years for fondling a boy at a community swimming pool. Since his trial, lawyers for the Boston Archdiocese have given prosecutors the names of more than 80 priests accused of molesting children over a 40-year period.

The archdiocese recently reached a civil settlement of $20 million to $30 million with more than 80 of Geoghan's alleged victims. Two other criminal complaints against Geoghan were dropped when a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for abuse charges normally is 10 years from the time of the assault or 10 years since the alleged victim turned 16.

Prosecutors said the Ferraro case is exempt from such constrictions because there is no statute of limitations in Massachusetts when a suspect leaves the district.

In Florida, meanwhile, a seminary priest resigned Monday over allegations that he sexually abused a teenager in New York in the 1970s.

Msgr. William White, 69, resigned after the president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach discovered that the Archdiocese of New York had settled a case in 1997 for $100,000 involving alleged abuse by White.

White did not admit to the abuse; he said his actions were misinterpreted, seminary president Stephen Bosso said Monday.

Kevin Mahony, 42, of Salem, Ore., said White abused him for three years, beginning when he was a high school senior.

And in New Jersey on Monday, Associated Press reported that a family was trying to convince a court that it should be able to sue the Diocese of Camden over alleged sexual abuse that took place nearly 20 years ago.

Civil claims in child sex abuse cases in New Jersey generally must be filed by the time the victim reaches age 20, but the law allows exceptions when the victim can show that duress or mental instability delayed the filing.

DeRosa, at the Diocese of Brooklyn, said he was confident that the court system will deal appropriately with Father Ferraro. "The church is a divine institution," he said. "It will not die. It will not go away. But it is going through a rough time now."

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