Priest Guilty in Sex Chat
Former Chaplain of Catholic School Faces 6 Months' Jail
By Jonathan Bandler
September 8, 2001
WHITE PLAINS - A priest from Connecticut who was the chaplain of a Roman Catholic high school pleaded guilty yesterday to having sexually explicit online conversations with someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy.
The Rev. John Castaldo, 42, will face a maximum of six months in the Westchester County Jail and 4y years of probation when acting state Supreme Court Justice John Perone sentences him Oct. 25.
The priest was caught as part of a continuing sting operation by the Westchester District Attorney's Office that has resulted in 43 arrests since July 1999. Castaldo conversed online with an undercover investigator between April 28 and May 24, discussing sexual activity, telling him he was a gym teacher and arranging to meet for a sexual liaison. He eventually canceled the meeting, but he was arrested and his computer was seized at St. Maurice Church in Stamford, Conn., where he was a resident priest.
"He called it off because he knew it was wrong," defense lawyer Vincent Briccetti said. He hadn't done that before, and he didn't think it was right. He is very sorry for what he did and the people he let down. He is determined to accept responsibility and remain a priest, which is his calling."
The Bridgeport Diocese relieved Castaldo of his duties as chaplain of Trinity Catholic High School in Stamford and from having any public role as a priest.
"This is a time of sadness in the life of our church and our community," Joseph McAleer, a diocese spokesman, said in a statement yesterday. "It is also a moment in which to renew our pledge to deal with any such cases openly and promptly. Prayers are requested for Father Castaldo and his loved ones."
Castaldo remains a priest while the diocese continues its investigation, and he lives at a residence for Catholic priests in Larchmont.
He pleaded guilty yesterday to first-degree attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor, a felony punishable by up to four years in state prison.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Delohery asked that Castaldo be incarcerated and lose his computer. Perone said Castaldo could go to jail for less than six months - or even avoid jail time - if he abides by certain conditions and gets a positive presentence report from the county Probation Department. The judge released him without bail pending sentencing.
One of the conditions prohibits the priest from using the Internet. He can use a computer for professional or volunteer counseling only if a supervisor is monitoring him, but McAleer said Castaldo is no longer authorized to do any church-related counseling.
The priest said he was taking anti-depressant medication but that it did not affect his ability to plead guilty yesterday. He appeared with his mother, sister and a priest friend. They declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Castaldo, who was ordained in 1987, was a respected spiritual adviser who worked at Attica prison and helped Connecticut state police. He spent several years as a sports referee and umpire and was noted for his marriage-preparation classes for couples.
A longtime friend of Castaldo's, Jeff Corrigan, said he was saddened by the turn the priest's life had taken.
"He took part in my wedding. He baptized both of my kids, and in 20 years of friendship, I've never seen him doing anything that was close to illegal," said Corrigan, a former federal prosecutor now living in Edison, N.J. "I just hope that this one mistake, which he obviously regrets, doesn't wipe out all the years of good that he's done."
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