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Scandal Hits Parish Twice

Apr 9, 2002 | New York Daily News

Two of the six priests suspended last weekend by the Archdiocese of New York served the same beleaguered parish in Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester.

The Rev. Gennaro Gentile, who served at Holy Name of Mary Church from 1987 to 2000, was suspended from an administrative job in Poughkeepsie, the Daily News has learned.

A News investigation revealed last month that although abuse claims have dogged Gentile for three decades, the archdiocese has protected his reputation.

The archdiocese also removed the Rev. Kenneth Jesselli, who replaced Gentile at Holy Name two years ago and helped heal the parish's wounds.

The suspensions left the Holy Name flock reeling yesterday.

"How dare the archdiocese put another guy here with sex-abuse allegations after we suffered through 12 years and lots of allegations against Gentile," said Anne Kennedy, a Holy Name parishioner for more than 30 years. "How dare they do that to us. We are just outraged."

The suspensions, announced Sunday, were the latest in a series of steps Edward Cardinal Egan has taken in recent days to tackle a growing sex-abuse scandal.

After initially refusing to turn over old abuse allegations to authorities, he decided last week to forward about three dozen complaints dating back 40 years to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Egan also announced a new policy for dealing with future allegations. Each claim will be reviewed by a panel of clergy members and outside experts.

Authorities to Press Issue

Today, district attorneys from Westchester and several other counties intend to meet with archdiocesan officials to discuss the possible prosecution of accused priests and the handling of future cases.

The archdiocese did not release the names of the six suspended priests. Some worked for parishes, and others had administrative assignments.

But three names have surfaced: Gentile, Jesselli and the Rev. John Gallant, who is assigned to St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Sloatsburg, Rockland County.

In 1997, a civil lawsuit was filed against Gentile by the family of two boys who said the priest had made sexual advances toward them. Despite the charges, Gentile, known as Father Jerry, served out his full term at Holy Name.

Gentile, who was processing marriage annulments at the Catholic Center's office in Poughkeepsie, quietly settled the suit last year.

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling declined comment on the suspended priests.

"They have been told that they are not to present themselves as priests and not to exercise their priestly ministry publicly," he said.

One of Gentile's earliest alleged victims, Tom McCulloch, said "it's about time" the archdiocese took action. McCulloch was 13 when Gentile tried to forcibly remove his pajama bottoms on a camping trip in 1973, according to court documents and an interview with The News.

"Thirty years have gone by since my incident with Father Jerry, and it's sad to think how many kids he has affected before the church stood up and took responsibility," said McCulloch, 42, now an Anchorage businessman.

Parish Given News

In his two years at Holy Name, Jesselli earned the respect of many parishioners.

"I never in a million years would have thought anything like this about him," said William Ormsby, a longtime church member. "Allegations are one thing. Proving them is another."

In Sloatsburg, Gallant told parishioners Sunday that he was being suspended based on a 22-year-old allegation that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old woman.

"I have never abused a minor boy or girl in my entire life," The Journal News of Westchester quoted Gallant as saying.

He recently helped comfort the family of New York Firefighter Denis Germain, who died in the World Trade Center attack. The Germain family held a funeral at St. Joan of Arc.

"Father Gallant was always helpful to me, and he was very dedicated to his parish," said the Rev. Michael Hardiman, a Long Island priest and Germain's cousin.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Catholic Diocese suspended nine priests yesterday while prosecutors review past allegations that they sexually abused children.

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