Priest at Summit Catholic Prep School on Leave Pending Probe
By Caren Lissner
January 22, 2020
SUMMIT, NJ — A priest who once worked in law enforcement in New York City is now on leave from a Catholic school in Summit pending an investigation into "complaints issued in the past several days," according to a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark.
Spokeswoman Maria Margiotta would not elaborate on the nature of the complaints against Rev. Salvator "Sal" DiStefano, who was serving as a chaplain at Oratory Catholic Preparatory School. But she said in a statement, "The Archdiocese of Newark takes very seriously any and all credible complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, religious, lay staff and volunteers of the Archdiocese."
She confirmed he has been placed on administrative leave. "The Archdiocese also stresses that Fr. DiStefano's leave should not be interpreted as punishment and he continues to have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise," she said. "At the conclusion of a review and external investigation by civil authorities, a determination will be made regarding Fr. DiStefano's status."
A biography of DiStefano on the school's website states that he has more than 30 years' experience in education, as well as several years in law enforcement. He holds doctorates in education and psychology.
Besides having served as a teacher and school administrator in New York City, he worked as a law enforcement officer with the New York City Department of Probation, the New York State Court System, and the New York City Police Department Division of School Safety, according to the biography. While a member of the New York City Community School Board, he served as Chairman of the School Safety and Security Committee and the New York City Department of Probation Task Force for Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Prevention.
The school referred all inquires to Margiotta.
A story on MyCentralJersey quoted a letter sent to parents by Head of School Bob Costello and two other school officials, saying, "Our School Administration has been and will continue to be fully compliant and transparent. During this time, there is no further information that can be shared because of the active legal investigation."
Oratory Prep has had to deal with well-publicized accusations against a priest in the past. Father John Caparelli, who had worked at several New Jersey parochial schools including Oratory, was found shot to death in his Nevada home last May. He had been publicly accused of sexual abuse back in 2011, including incidents that allegedly took place at Oratory in the 1980s. While he was eventually defrocked, he avoided prosecution.
The action comes nearly two months after a New Jersey law took effect on Dec. 1 law extending the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse claims, and creating a two-year window to file cases for which the statute of limitations had previously expired.
The action also comes a year after nearly 200 names on a list of sex offenders in the clergy were named by the Catholic church. Here is the list released by the Catholic church in February 2019: Here's List Of NJ Priests Accused Of Child Sexual Abuse (UPDATED)
In April 2019, 52 Boy Scout leaders who worked in New Jersey and were accused of sexual abuse were also named by attorneys who represent victims. Read more: 52 NJ Boy Scout Leaders Accused Of Sexual Abuse Named
And, in May 2019, the names of more than 100 additional priests and members of the clergy were also released in a new disclosure. Read more: Another 100 NJ Priests, Clergy Accused Of Sex Abuse In Disclosure
Margiotta's statement, in full, read:
The Archdiocese of Newark is cooperating with the Union County Prosecutor's Office with respect to complaints issued in the past several days regarding Rev. Salvatore DiStefano, an Archdiocesan priest who serves as Chaplain at Oratory Catholic Preparatory School in Summit, N.J. Fr. DiStefano has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.
The Archdiocese emphasizes that the safety of minors and students is of utmost concern and that it will strictly follow policies and procedures in line with protecting the faithful and providing a safe environment.
The Archdiocese also stresses that Fr. DiStefano's leave should not be interpreted as punishment and he continues to have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. At the conclusion of a review and external investigation by civil authorities, a determination will be made regarding Fr. DiStefano's status.
Oratory Catholic Preparatory School Administration has informed parents and students of the developing situation and continues to be fully cooperative. The school has a Campus Ministry staff who will continue to maintain all the school's religious education, liturgical, and service programs. Daily and monthly schoolwide Masses will continue. Oratory Prep has long been an exemplary academic institution rooted in Catholic values and will continue to maintain those standards to provide the best experience possible for all its students.
The Archdiocese of Newark takes very seriously any and all credible complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, religious, lay staff and volunteers of the Archdiocese. Any person who wishes to report an incident of sexual abuse of a minor committed by a member of the clergy, religious, lay staff or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Newark should their County Prosecutor and the Archdiocesan Office for the Protection of the Faithful at 973-497-4254. For more information, visit online at www.rcan.organd click on the "Safe Environment" tab.