|Accused of Sex Abuse, Livingston Monsignor Takes Leave of Absence
By Bob Considine
July 4, 2011
The Rev. John J. Laferrera, monsignor of St. Philomena's Roman Catholic Church in Livingston, announced Saturday he is taking a temporary leave from his post amid allegations of sexual abuse by several men and a lawsuit filed against him and the Archdiocese of Newark.
Laferrera, who was ordained in 1973 and served at St. Philomena's since 2004, steadfastly maintained his innocence in a statement the Rev. Gerald J. Buonopane read after a Mass late Saturday afternoon.
"It is said that in this country which values the presumption of innocence, that priests are treated as guilty immediately," Laferrera said. "My reputation has been damaged, and I must use all energies to repair it -- although I know in my heart that such damage may be irreparable."
On March 1, four men filed a class-action civil lawsuit against Laferrera, 64, charging various improprieties in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while he was pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Newark.
Some alleging the abuse have come forward publicly in various demonstrations outside St. Philomena over the past several months. In March, Laferrera sent an e-mail to parishioners proclaiming his innocence.
Since the initial lawsuit was filed, one other man has joined the litigation, while others are contemplating coming forward publicly, according to the plaintiffs' attorney, Greg Gianforcaro.
Ernie Fabregas, one of the original plaintiffs, had taken his case to the Archdiocesan Review Board in 2009. The board found Fabregas' testimony was not credible.
On its website, the Archdiocese of Newark says a majority of its review board members are lay volunteers who have no formal affiliation with the Archdiocese. Further, it says, members have "professional backgrounds relevant to the ARB's investigatory purpose," including attorneys, criminal investigators, canon lawyers and social workers.
In his statement, Laferrera said he thought at the time his "ordeal had ended."
"Unfortunately, I was wrong," he said.
Brothers Samuel and Daniel Rivera, both of New Jersey, backed up Fabregas' claim, with assistance from Road to Recovery, an advocacy group for sexual-abuse victims of the church, led by the Rev. Bob Hoatson. They now are having their cases heard by the review board.
Samuel Rivera of Newark said the decision to come forward publicly against Laferrera was not an easy one.
"It's been very hard to keep this inside," said Rivera, 45. "I hadn't even told my wife until recently, and I've basically known her since grammar school."
Rivera said he was fondled by Laferrera between the ages of 12 and 14, primarily at the Immaculate Conception Church Rectory in Newark and at Laferrera's vacation home in Lanoka Harbor.
Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese, confirmed Laferrera will take a leave of absence while the Rivera brothers' inquiry is conducted and "also while this litigation is proceeding."
"The review board has started looking into the matter and talking with people involved and will be taking its time in order to get a full picture," Goodness added.
Some St. Philomena parishioners were dismayed by Laferrera's decision and threw their support behind the priest Saturday.
"He should stay until he's proven guilty," said Theresa Ciccone of West Orange. "It's one man against, what, the whole parish? It's a shame.
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