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  Ex-Priest Investigated in Sex Case

By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon
Journal News
March 11, 2000

Patrick Sexton, a former priest accused of sexually assaulting students while teaching in Brooklyn in the 1980s, was already teaching at Sacred Heart School in Mount Vernon in 1990 when Education Through Music Inc. of Manhattan began its collaboration with the school's music program. Information in a Page One report Saturday was incorrect.

A former Catholic priest under investigation after allegations surfaced that he fondled choirboys at a Brooklyn parochial school has been teaching at two Catholic elementary schools in Westchester for up to 10 years.

Patrick Sexton, 49, a part-time music teacher at the Sacred Heart School in Mount Vernon and the Corpus Christi School in Port Chester until he quit abruptly last week, underwent psychological counseling as early as 1983 after a molestation complaint, church officials said.

In December, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn offered a man who said he was fondled by Sexton 20 years ago $15,000 on the condition that he remain silent. The man declined.

Now the Archdiocese of New York is trying to determine if Sexton's students at the Westchester schools were also at risk.

" We are looking back at past records, talking to teachers, talking to past teachers, " said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese. " But at this point, none of the parents of current students have come forward. "

The inquiry began Monday, three days after Sexton resigned upon learning that the former choirboys in Brooklyn were about to go public with their allegations.

That afternoon, Sacred Heart Principal Sally Powers sent students home with letters urging parents to " talk with your children about Mr. Sexton. "

" Assure yourselves that nothing along this line ever involved your children, " the letter said. " In the event that your child mentions anything that makes you worry, please notify me immediately. "

Both the Diocese of Brooklyn, where Sexton was accused, and the Archdiocese of New York, which oversees the Westchester schools where he taught, said he would not have been allowed to teach had they had all the facts.

But they didn't - Brooklyn didn't know Sexton was teaching again, and the archdiocese didn't know of the allegations.

" You'd have to talk to the Brooklyn Diocese about what they knew and when they knew it, " said Zwilling. " But when someone leaves active ministry and says 'I'm going off on my own,' they wouldn't necessarily call every diocese in the United States and say, 'Father Sexton is leaving the active ministry. "'

" The fact is we had no idea what he was doing, " said Frank DeRosa, spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn. " In our diocese he would not have been allowed to teach or minister unless he met with the bishop, explained his desire to come back, underwent whatever type of counseling before he was allowed to come back. "

Officials at Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart declined to comment and referred all questions to the archdiocese.

Sexton could not be reached for comment. His home telephone has been disconnected, and no one answered the door at his home in Bayside, Queens, which was dark last night.

The Brooklyn allegations first surfaced Monday in the New York Post. The newspaper - which did not report that Sexton had been teaching in Westchester - quoted him as denying the allegations.

Sexton has not been charged in either Brooklyn or Westchester, church and law enforcement officials said.

However, Sabrina Beldner, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn district attorney, said the office is investigating the allegations by former altar and choirboys at St. Cecilia's School in Brooklyn, where Sexton worked in the 1980s.

Former choirboy Daniel Dugo Jr., 29, said yesterday that repressed memories of being fondled by Sexton when he was 8 surfaced in 1998, after he watched a television interview with an incest victim.

The Brooklyn Diocese offered him the $15,000 settlement, a copy of which was obtained by The Journal News. Dugo turned it down.

" I couldn't do that, " he said. " I had to tell people. ... I know he's still working with kids. I had to put a stop to it. I couldn't rest at night if I didn't try. "

Dugo's lawyer, Robert Sharron of Manhattan, said others have approached him, including two whose cases may qualify for civil lawsuits.

Dugo and two other accusers - Nicholas Urzia, 30, and Sal Carlino, 28 - cannot seek damages because the statute of limitations has expired for criminal charges and civil liability. Civil cases alleging childhood abuses must be filed within five years of the accuser's 18th birthday, Sharron said.

" He was like the cool priest, " Sharron said of Sexton. " He'd come in with shorts and sandals. He listened to Led Zeppelin. He was trusted beyond belief. Then this. "

Sexton left the priesthood in 1990, DeRosa said. He said Sexton said only that he wanted a career change.

Sexton's new career was in Westchester, Zwilling said.

The archdiocese spokesman said Sexton was hired 10 years ago by Education Through Music Inc., a Manhattan nonprofit group that, he said, he hired for the Sacred Heart arts program. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

Sexton was first hired to run the school's arts program. Six years ago, when Education Through Music ceased hiring for the school, Sexton began working as a part-time music teacher at Sacred Heart and took on an identical post at Corpus Christi in Port Chester, Zwilling said.

" Those things are done on the local level, " Zwilling said. " We would eventually be given a list of the teachers there, but we don't get involved in the ordinary hiring or firing of teachers. "

Sacred Heart parents seemed to be taking the news in stride yesterday.

" This man never appeared to me to be anything like what they're saying, " said Deborah Lopez, a parent. " As far as I'm concerned, he's OK. "

" I was concerned, but I wasn't upset, " added another, Charles Lowe. " I thought he was a decent person. But naturally I was concerned. "

 
 

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