|Meeting Irks Backers of Beset Priest
By Michael Hill
February 27, 2008
Several dozen members of St. Leo's Catholic parish gathered in front of the Little Italy church last night, hoping to find out answers about the fate of the Rev. Michael Salerno, the priest ousted last fall after an allegation of sexual abuse, but were barred from entering a meeting of the parish council.
They gathered because an e-mail circulated among the parishioners saying the Rev. Peter Sticco, head of the Pallottine Fathers, the order that runs the church, would be at the meeting called to discuss the parish's finances. But one of the church's pastors, identified as the Rev. Louis Rojas, refused to allow anyone not on the council to enter the rectory.
"Shame!" several of those on the street shouted as the door closed.
"All of this could have been avoided if they had just opened up the meeting and told us what is going on," said Maria Serafini as she handed out candles to those gathered on the sidewalk in front of the church's brick edifice. Those in the meeting were not available to answer questions. It could not be determined whether Sticco was in attendance.
Salerno, a popular priest credited with reviving St. Leo's during his 10 years there, was removed suddenly in November after the allegation surfaced. Sticco told the parish then that the sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred 30 years ago, before Salerno was a priest but when he was a lay member of the Pallottines in New York.
In the days after Salerno left St. Leo's, signs appeared across Little Italy in support of the man known as Father Mike. They were still evident last night in the streets near the historic church.
Since then, parishioners have complained about the lack of information about Salerno's status.
"They have kept us in the dark," said Mary Ann Campanella.
Those in front of the church sang hymns as they waited on the chilly, rainy night.
"It has become an us-and-them situation," said Giovanna Blatterman. "They are in there, and we are out here. That is not the way a church is supposed to be."
Karen Klima credited Salerno with bringing her back into the Catholic faith. "I sing in the choir," she said. "I am here every Sunday. But they are making it harder and harder for me," she said of the lack of communication about Salerno.
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