An internal investigation led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to remove a Queens church pastor from the ministry over accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.
Bishop Robert Brennan announced Monday the actions taken against Father John O’Connor, Pastor of St. Gregory the Great in Bellerose, Queens, based on the recommendation of its Diocesan Review Board (DRB) over claims that the 54-year-old priest engaged in indecent behavior with children online.
The allegations had been made made in a Child Victims Act (CVA) lawsuit filed against him Aug. 13, 2020. While investigating these particular allegations, the DRB unturned further allegations of sexual misconduct in March of 2000 while O’Connor was assigned to St. Athanasius Church in Brooklyn.
Following this initial accusation in 2000, O’Connor was placed on leave by the Diocese of Brooklyn so he could receive treatment from May 2000 to August 2001. Following this initial period of treatment, O’Connor returned to the diocese while still continuing treatment until 2005.
“The independent Diocesan Review Board, which is a group of experts in law enforcement, psychology as well as the medical and legal fields, relies on the assistance of a private investigation company comprised of former law enforcement officers with experience in sexual abuse investigations,” said Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “The nature of the investigation is confidential.”
According to the statement issued by the Diocese, typically removal from ministry means that the individual can no longer celebrate Mass publicly, cannot exercise any public ministerial duties and cannot reside in ecclesiastical residence. In addition to these punitive requirements, Father O’Connor’s name will also be added to the list of Credibly Accused Priests on the Diocese of Brooklyn’s website.
“Once the independent Diocesan Review Board (DRB) has deemed an allegation credible (“credible means the Diocesan officials believe that the allegations may be true) the independent DRB recommends the immediate removal of the cleric,” said Rodriguez. “As is our policy we have forwarded the information to the district attorney’s office and they [will] determine if criminal charges will be warranted.”
The statement also mentioned that the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops passed a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. This charter includes and highlights the church’s Zero Tolerance Policy, which states that any clergy member who is categorized as being Credibly Accused [of sexual misconduct] with a minor must be permanently removed from the clergy.
Additionally, the Diocese said they conduct initial and ongoing background checks on all employees as well as providing age-appropriate sexual abuse awareness training and resources to children and adults. In their Jan. 31 press release, the Diocese of Brooklyn reiterated their commitment to protecting children and young people from sexualized violence.
“The Diocese of Brooklyn places great emphasis on providing pastoral care to victims. The Office of Victim Assistance Ministry provides supportive initial counseling, therapy referrals, and pastoral resources for the victims of sexual abuse,” the statement read. “The Diocese hosts a yearly Mass of Hope and Healing where the faithful come together and pray for victims of clergy sexual abuse.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn urges anyone who has been a victim of clergy sexual abuse to report to law enforcement or to the Toll-Free Reporting Line established by the Diocese at 1-888-634-4499. All calls are forwarded to law enforcement.