Egan Resources – March 25–31, 2002
Associated Press, carried in the Baltimore Sun and reprinted in the Hartford
BOSTON - As Roman Catholics gathered yesterday for the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn observance of the Christian calendar, priests across the country addressed sexual abuse scandals that have shaken the church and tainted some of its top leaders.
"Not much can shock us in today's world, but in the past weeks we've seen things, heard things and read things that we never would have dreamed of," the Rev. Raymond Mann told parishioners at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, the city where the scandal erupted earlier this year.
In Denver, priests read aloud messages of apology and compassion from their archbishop. In Chicago and Palm Beach, Fla., parishioners were met by leaflets discussing the allegations.
In many churches, Palm Sunday sermons asked Catholics to take solace from the Easter story of faith's victory over suffering and evil.
"There's always trouble in the world, there's always evil," said the Rev. Fergus Healey, also speaking at St. Anthony Shrine. "But we should face our current situation with a sense of hope, because evil's not supposed to have the last say."
This year, the six-week celebration of Lent, which retraces the story of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, has been overshadowed by stories of the clergy's alleged sexual abuse of children and minors.
Revelations that the Archdiocese of Boston failed to remove priests accused of child molestation have been repeated in parishes across the country.
Calls have been growing for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, leader of the Boston archdiocese, and each day seems to bring new reports of children betrayed by their clergy.
Law, who has addressed the crisis numerous times and repeatedly rebuffed calls for his resignation, did not directly speak to the scandal during services yesterday.
Around the country, however, many priests used the themes of suffering, frayed trust and redemption contained in the traditional Palm Sunday readings, to address the church's crisis.
"For American Catholics, this Lent has surely been an emptying and humbling experience," Denver Archbishop Charles Caput wrote in a letter read in the archdiocese's nearly 150 parishes. "The cross this Holy Week will have a deeper meaning for all of us."
During his homily at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York Cardinal Edward Egan called for a "purification of our church."
Egan, while serving as bishop of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese, failed to notify authorities of alleged abuse by priests and allowed them to continue working within the church for years, according to recently released documents.
"It is a time of great suffering for the church," Egan said. "The cry that comes from all of our hearts is that we never want to even think that such a horror may be visited upon any of our young people, their parents or their loved ones ... "
In Hartford, Conn., Archbishop Daniel Cronin said a small number of priests throughout the United States had caused "immense harm and scandal."
"Let it be said frankly that this action is immoral and reprehensible and can never be excused," he told several hundred people gathered at St. Joseph's Cathedral. "These priests have hurt those they abused and caused scandal to the faithful of the church."
In Salt Lake City, the Rev. Joseph M. Mayo reminded parishioners that Jesus "stood against abuse of all kinds, especially the abuse of children who suffered as we live through this terrible crisis in our church."
The priests' words come three days after Pope John Paul II broke his silence on the scandal, saying it cast a "dark shadow of suspicion over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty."
The clergy molestation scandal exploded in Boston in January after newly released documents revealed that former priest John J. Geoghan had been moved from parish to parish following accusations of sexual abuse.
Since then, the archdiocese has provided prosecutors with the names of approximately 80 priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past 40 years. Dozens of priests - out of more than 47,000 nationwide - have been suspended or forced to resign.
Although many Catholics were chagrined to hear the sexual abuse allegations discussed during the holy services, they acknowledged that something needed to be said.
"It's important to let people know that the world is not coming to an end," said Michael Kaminski, 25, who attended a service in Jackson, Miss., where Bishop William Houck spoke of a need for prayer and solidarity.
"Easter is coming, a time when flowers bloom and everything is renewed,"
Kaminiski said. "We're going to get through this."
By Nicole Bode, Ralph R. Ortega, and Greg Gittrich
Edward Cardinal Egan ushered in the holiest week of the year for Catholics yesterday by calling for the "purification" of the "suffering" church as he vowed the evil of priestly pedophilia would be "stamped out."
"I've taken steps to see that there is no more of this," he told parishioners at St. Patrick's Cathedral in his first comments from the pulpit on the scandal. "This evil will be stamped out with all the fervor of the Lord and the Lord's people."
Egan's strongest words yet on the subject came on Palm Sunday and followed a letter to parishioners in which he declared zero tolerance for child molestation.
"It is a time of great suffering for the church," he said yesterday.
"We need compassion for those whose dignity as human beings is disrespected in any way. We need purification of our church, purification of each of us individually in the mystical body of Jesus Christ."
Parishioners packing the Fifth Ave. cathedral had paused on their way inside to pick up palms and the letter from the cardinal.
Egan, who has been assailed for his handling of abuse cases while he was head of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., directed worshipers to read the letter.
Similar scenes played out in churches throughout the New York Archdiocese and in the Brooklyn Diocese, where Bishop Thomas Daily, in a letter to parishioners, apologized for not doing more to stop a Boston priest sex scandal that touched off a national furor. Reporting methods eyed Daily didn't address the issue during Mass at St. James Cathedral Basilica in downtown Brooklyn. But he told reporters he would continue to handle allegations of abuse internally unless the law is changed.
Egan said in his letter that church officials would report such allegations to authorities only if there is "reasonable cause to suspect abuse" and if the accuser doesn't oppose the reporting.
State lawmakers are considering new laws that would require priests and church officials to report suspected abuse.
"We may not like it - there are a lot of laws we don't like," said Daily, who was a high-ranking official in the Boston Archdiocese when a priest allegedly abused scores of boys.
Egan and Daily's stance on reporting abuse allegations appears to have little support in the city. An exclusive Daily News/NY1 poll published yesterday showed that nine out of 10 New York Catholics believe all allegations of child abuse by priests should be reported to secular authorities. Differing opinions The reaction of the parishioners to the church's public handling of the scandal was mixed yesterday.
Many of those at St. Patrick's were upset that Egan used the cathedral's pulpit to discuss sexual abuse on the day that kicks off Holy Week, which culminates with Easter Sunday.
"It's a pretty intense issue," said Jim Gagnon, a 21-year-old University of Colorado student. "The molestation of children is pretty crazy. I just don't think it was appropriate."
Others stood by Egan, saying they were glad to finally hear him speak on the subject. "I was very relieved and pleased that he took the bull by the horns," said James Bliss, a retired lawyer from Garden City, L.I.
During his seven-minute homily, Egan paused uncomfortably before including child sex abuse among other troubles that might keep worshipers from being grateful during Holy Week.
"It's difficult in this time to focus on gratitude perhaps - a time of war, a time of fear of terrorists, the horror of Sept. 11 and the horror of child abuse," he said. "But there is much for which we need to be grateful."
Meanwhile, priests across the country asked churchgoers to take solace from the Easter story of faith's victory over evil.
In Washington, however, worshipers at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament erupted in a standing ovation when their pastor called for Archdiocese of Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law to step down. Law has been slammed for his handling of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 130 people over 30 years.
By Pete Hamill firstname.lastname@example.org
At 10:16, Edward Cardinal Egan moved onto the altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral, his tall miter glittering, his pastoral staff firmly in hand, his chasuble pure and white over his alb and red cassock.
He was followed by those who work for him on his daily mission, along with cloaked women and altar boys. The miters were removed and snapped flat, and these men of God adjusted their skullcaps, those red links to ancient Judaism. All took seats facing the cardinal. The altar seemed almost voluptuous with scarlet and gold.
[Photo Caption - Holy Season: Edward Cardinal Egan celebrates Palm Sunday Mass yesterday. Egan addressed the crisis of child molestation facing the church, saying, "It is a time of great suffering."]
On this Palm Sunday, during a moment of extraordinary crisis in the Catholic Church, the great cathedral was packed. Every pew was squashed tight with human beings. Other worshipers stood three deep along the walls. There was an odd rustle caused by the bending and cracking of palm fronds. The crowd seemed tense, as if wondering what Egan would say about pedophile priests, if anything.
One infant broke the tension with a yawp. Another infant answered with a sob. Then all were directed to the hymnal and the music started and the crowd was singing a hymn I remembered from my own youth as an altar boy in Brooklyn.
All glory laud and honor
Egan then welcomed all to the cathedral, including a delegation from the Czech Republic who had come to visit Ground Zero. But the lips of children did not vanish as a symbol of innocence. The cardinal then called attention to the letter that was being passed out to all present (and to the media). It was addressed "My Dear Friends in the Lord" and its first sentence was blunt: "There can be no doubt: Sexual abuse of children is an abomination."
A visitor could feel the crowd almost audibly exhale. Good, they seemed to say. He's going to talk about this thing. But at that point, Egan referred to the scandal only briefly. "More about this later," he said, and then he retreated to his high thronelike chair, while another man read the entire New Testament account of the entrance into Jerusalem of a Jew named Jesus, on his way to the last Passover of his life. That is, he related the tragedy of arrest, conviction and sentencing that is essential to Christianity.
This was the version by Matthew, often cited by scholars as a foundation text for anti-Semitism. It places the heaviest blame for the execution of Jesus of Nazareth on Jewish priests, rather than the Romans, who actually carried it out.
When that reading was complete, Egan again spoke. "I will be brief," he said. "Jesus Christ knew what he was getting into when he entered Jerusalem . . ." The cardinal did not say that he knew what he was doing when he entered the Archdiocese of New York. Instead, he emphasized the sacrifice of Jesus (that is, his own human death) and the triumph of Resurrection.
He was clearly furious at those priests in the modern church who had committed such appalling acts against children. The cry of protest, he said, "comes from all our hearts. That cry goes out from my heart as well." He combined in his anger the priestly sexual assaults - "sins, not mistakes" - with the assault on the World Trade Center. He asked for "freedom from fear" and for compassion, and for "the purification of our church. . ." 'Very good start' Much of his homily was wrapped in cottony imprecision; some longed for a tougher, more precise and exact speech that would go straight to the heart of this legal and ecclesiastical mess. That is clearly not Egan's style. Still, it seemed to many in the cathedral that he had said more than they ever expected. Some of them talked out on the steps.
"I'm glad he just didn't duck the whole thing," said one visitor from Brooklyn, who preferred not to give his name. "At least he said something. And that means he'll have to say more."
Carmen Garcia, who came to New York 33 years ago from Zacatecas, Mexico, and has lived in Chelsea for more than 20 years, was holding twinned images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the late John Cardinal O'Connor.
"I thought he did a good job," she said. "This happens in other religions, too, and in other places. But I love my church. I know we're going to get through this. This is a very, very good start."
On the Fifth Ave. steps, while tourists posed for digital cameras in front of the doors of the cathedral, and people spoke Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian ("Excuse, where is the, uh, Rockefeller Center?") and, of course, English, others were less forgiving. That piece of Fifth Ave. was a microcosm of the much wider debate.
One man told me, "I'm born a Catholic, which means I've been a Catholic for 54 years, and this is the worst thing that ever happened in the church." He paused. "It isn't even about sex. It's about hypocrisy." Others insisted that celibacy has to be set aside as a requirement for the priesthood. "I know, I know, there's plenty of married pedophiles. But let's reduce the odds, okay?"
One insisted that better screening of potential priests was mandatory, "including getting their police records." One man said that the church should not ordain priests until they are 50 years old, "when they're out of gas." Several said that nothing at all should be changed, that the church knew what it was doing now, and would "weed out the bad apples."
The danger of a witch hunt also seemed very possible. Cynical con men might make false accusations against priests in hopes of winning a lottery: That is, picking up a nice hunk of cash to keep quiet. Others could succumb to the "buried memory" school of psychobabble, remembering events that never took place. Everybody should go to see Liam Neeson in Arthur Miller's great play "The Crucible" to see how base motives (the lust for property) can combine with hysteria to cause terrifying damage. Nobody should forget that the most triumphant of all New York gods is mammon.
When the crowd drifted away ("How far is Times Square?"), I walked toward the 6 train on Lexington Ave. Across the street from the side entrance to Saks Fifth Avenue, a man with one leg was balanced on crutches, holding a cup. He was Mexican, about 35, far from home. We talked a little, as I remembered my father, who had lost a leg playing soccer in the immigrant leagues in the 1920s. After the war, one of the veterans came home to our block, swinging on crutches, a leg gone. My father asked him to have a drink. "Don't let it get to you," my father said that day. "You can still have a life."
In the shadow of St. Patrick's, I gave the man some money and told him in Spanish to have a good life. "Mil gracias," he said, meaning a thousand thanks. Then in Spanish, "I'll pray for you, senor."
Daily News Investigation
By Heidi Evans and Richard T. Pienciak with additional research by Ellen
Locker and Faigi Rosenthal
During the past three decades, the Rev. Gennaro Gentile has served in nine parishes throughout the northern reaches of the Archdiocese of New York. At virtually every station, allegations of sexual abuse of boys have dogged him.
According to court documents and scores of witnesses interviewed by the Daily News, Gentile has abused boys since 1971 in his rectory bedroom, at his remote upstate lake house and even in a parishioner's family room.
A News investigation into the life of Father Jerry, as the 55-year-old cleric is known, shows that archdiocese officials have chronically rejected the merits of the allegations while waging a vigorous fight to protect the priest's reputation.
Sources say financial settlements or arrangements have been made with the families of at least three young men - two of them brothers - who say they were sexually abused as teens by Gentile, who now handles annulments for the archdiocese in Poughkeepsie. A lawsuit involving the brothers was quietly settled four months ago.
When called by a News reporter, Gentile said, "No comment," then hung up.
Joseph Zwilling, archdiocesan spokesman, said he could not respond to a series of written questions yesterday. Msgr. Edward O'Donnell, who as archdiocesan director of priest personnel was involved in many aspects of the Gentile matter, did not return several phone calls.
The News investigation includes claims that Gentile:
Tried to forcibly remove the pajama bottoms of a 13-year-old Wappingers Falls boy during an unchaperoned camping trip to Virginia Beach in 1973.
Disregarded warnings from priest after priest, at parish after parish, that he should not take unchaperoned boys on overnight trips, including visits to his five-bedroom house on Ballston Lake in Saratoga County, which he calls Jerry's Retreat.
"I've been here for over 20 years," said one neighbor. "He has definitely had many kids that come up and spend either a weekend or a week, quite frequently. It is typically always boys."
Allowed young men to stay overnight in the rectory at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson, where he served as administrator and pastor from 1987 to 2000, and allowed one of them to use the rectory as his mailing address.
Took male teens up to his rectory bedroom and sometimes turned postdinner conversations or chess lessons into "full body massages," according to the teens.
Kept a video titled "The Art of Erotic Massage for Men" in his bookcase in the rectory at Holy Name of Mary. He also kept a book on a similar topic at his 100-year-old lake house.
In 1993, showed one of the brothers involved in the lawsuit a catalogue depicting male models "posed seductively in sexually provocative clothing." The boy was 15.
Gave young boys oil massages at the upstate home and didn't flinch when, on one occasion, a mother and her 8-year-old son walked in on him.
Took boys on all-expenses-paid vacations to Pennsylvania and Walt Disney World without their parents.
Has had four post office boxes issued in his name during his priesthood, which the plaintiffs' lawyer in the lawsuit suggested was how Gentile received the sexy male clothing catalogue and possibly other erotic materials.
In November, Gentile settled the lawsuit filed by the parents of the brothers who said he sexually abused them in the early 1990s when he was pastor at Holy Name of Mary. One of the attacks allegedly occurred at the upstate home, another in the family's home.
Defense lawyers successfully argued in 1999 that charges against the archdiocese should be dismissed because of the statute of limitations and because the archdiocese had no warning that Gentile, who has a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Iona College, had any propensity toward sexual abuse of young boys.
In reaching the settlement with Gentile, parents Vincent and Patricia Nauheimer were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, according to sources.
The News has learned that around the time the Nauheimers filed their lawsuit in 1997, the archdiocese agreed to finance psychiatric therapy for a third boy who, after alleging he'd been sexually abused by Gentile, tried to kill himself.
The money to pay for the boy's treatments came from the Holy Name of Mary fund for indigents, according to court papers and interviews.
The Nauheimers, who originally sought $55 million in their lawsuit, declined repeated requests for comment. But The News obtained hundreds of pages of documents related to the lawsuit and to other allegations of sexual misconduct by Gentile.
Based on interviews with priests, men who say they were victimized by Gentile, their parents, former and current parishioners, former co-workers and eyewitnesses, as well as sworn affidavits, other court documents, confidential correspondence and public records, here is the story of the Rev. Gennaro Gentile:
Charismatic, well-read and outgoing, Gentile was born in Manhattan and grew up in the north Bronx.
He is a camera buff, chess aficionado and avid racquetball player who enjoys taking his boat out on Ballston Lake.
Wherever he has worked, Gentile has been described as popular with preteens and teens. In 1978, he published a children's Christmas book titled "Mouse in the Manger."
Gentile attended Catholic schools in New York from age 9, beginning with Holy Rosary Elementary in 1955 and 1956, then St. Peter and Paul Elementary from 1956 to 1959. At his Confirmation, he chose Louis as his middle name.
He graduated in 1963 from Cathedral Prep on West End Ave. in Manhattan, then attended Cathedral College from 1963 to 1965 and St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers from 1965 to 1971.
For about six months in 1970, he served as a deacon at St. Mary's Church in Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County, then returned to the seminary to complete formal training.
Gentile was ordained in May 1971 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
Trying to understand how Gentile ended up who he is today requires a journey back to his early days in the ministry, when he left disturbing impressions at the seminary and at St. Mary's in Wappingers Falls.
"It was more like, 'Does this guy have the characteristics that you'd like to see in someone who was ordained as a priest?' I didn't feel Jerry was submissive enough. He wasn't willing to think of others' feelings instead of his own," said the Rev. Richard O'Gorman, who was his mentor at St. Mary's in Wappingers Falls.
'He has a problem'
After completing his apprenticeship there, Gentile was given his first posting as an ordained priest at St. Mary's parish in Poughkeepsie, 13 miles from the Wappingers Falls church.
O'Gorman expressed his concerns in a June 1, 1971, letter to the Rev. Thomas Leonard, who was then field director for education at the seminary in Yonkers. Part of Leonard's job was to place newly ordained priests at parishes around the archdiocese.
"It is my feeling that Jerry still has a great deal of insecurity, and I was a bit surprised and disappointed to find that he was assigned so close," O'Gorman wrote. "I really was hoping that he would be given a chance to get away and grow up on his own.
"I feel that he has a problem, and I feel he will not properly sever his relationship with St. Mary's [in Wappingers Falls] being so close," O'Gorman wrote.
Now pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Bangall, in northeast Dutchess County, O'Gorman said he was unaware of allegations of misconduct against Gentile at that time. He said "the problem" he referred to was Gentile's self-centered attitude, imprudence and inability to keep the proper professional distance from his flock.
"He didn't respect authority," said O'Gorman. "He had this kind of way about him; he liked to appear as a know-it-all. It was difficult to give him direction. I guess I would say he was arrogant."
As an example, O'Gorman cited "the business of having these young kids around without recognizing what other people might think or say."
He said Gentile would frequently gather up a group of children and take them "here and there" without telling anyone beforehand. "It was always, 'The kids this, the kids that,'" said O'Gorman. "As I recall, he talked about kids a lot. The kids were the focus of things."
Leonard, who told The News he had never received a complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior by Gentile, replied to O'Gorman's letter June 11, 1971.
He took note of O'Gorman's concerns and acknowledged that the pastor at St. Mary's in Wappingers Falls, the now-deceased Rev. Charles Brennan, had hoped that Gentile would be sent to Staten Island, "or, in other terms, as far away as possible."
Leonard, now a monsignor at Holy Trinity Church on W. 82nd St., in Manhattan, wrote that he believed the relatively close distance between Wappingers Falls and Poughkeepsie would "become emotionally and intellectually greater as the year continues."
The Rev. Richard O'Gorman, left, said Gentile would frequently gather up a group of children and take them "here and there" without telling anyone else beforehand.
O'Gorman's fears that Gentile would not give up his close contacts with parishioners in Wappingers Falls would turn out to be well-founded.
During his short stay in Wappingers Falls, Deacon Gentile had quickly become a trusted figure in the lives of the devout McCulloch family - mom, dad, five children and a sixth on the way.
Religion teacher Dodie McCulloch and her husband, Stephen, a 30-year IBM employee, became so comfortable with Gentile that he was a regular guest at their home, including dinner once a week.
After his ordination and assignment to St. Mary's in Poughkeepsie, Gentile continued with his visits and meals with the McCulloch family.
Over the next 25 years, he baptized the youngest McCulloch child, married three of the couple's other children and baptized many of their grandchildren.
Over those same years, the McCullochs treated him like a son. "When Steve noticed that Jerry's coat was old and worn, the next day he bought him a new one," said Dodie.
It was no surprise in summer 1973, then, that the McCullochs agreed to let Gentile take Stephen Jr., 14, and Tom, 13, on a camping trip to Virginia Beach with a third boy.
Tom told The News in a telephone interview from Anchorage, where he co-owns a bar, that Gentile brought a jug of wine with him on the trip, even though it was against campground rules to have alcohol on the premises.
While his older brother and the third boy were away from the campsite, Tom said, he went into his tent to put on his pajamas. Gentile, he said, followed him in and accosted him.
"He was laughing at first, then it became a wrestling match as I tried to fight him off," said Tom, now 42 and married, with an 11-year-old son. "He tried to pull my pajama bottoms off, and I wouldn't allow it.
"It went on for quite a while," Tom said. "When he realized I was angry and what he wanted wasn't going to happen, it got more serious."
Tom recalled that he began to run out of breath. "I was wrestling with a 200-pound guy, fighting as hard as I could to keep my pants on. I shudder to think what would have happened if I was a more timid or easygoing kid. I was lucky because I stopped it."
He said he stayed quiet for so long in part because he "wasn't quite sure if it was an isolated incident with me. Everyone loved Jerry. So I kept it to myself."
Tom, who sobbed when he finally told his parents at age 36, said he is still angry. "I'd like to put my fist in his face - as would a lot of other people," he said.
A hero cop
Former altar boy Karl (Skip) Mannian was honored at the Clinton White House for outstanding community service after he raised $28,000 for the family of a Mexican immigrant killed in a hit-and-run accident.
He was featured in People magazine and on the "Dateline NBC" program as a hardworking police detective who cracked a big serial murder case.
But behind the limelight, Mannian has another story to tell: an ugly one about Gentile.
The son of a firefighter, Mannian served as an altar boy under Gentile in 1971, at St. Mary's Church in Poughkeepsie. In an affidavit he provided in connection with the lawsuit, Mannian remembered the abuse starting when he was 11 or 12.
First, Gentile invited him into the rectory for lunch and dinner. During and after those meals, Mannian often chatted with Gentile and the other priests.
"After dinner," Mannian wrote in his affidavit, "he would often take me up to his room to teach me to play chess." The game soon included a back massage, which progressed "to full-body massages," Mannian recalled.
He said that on one occasion Gentile asked him to open his pants "so he could rub my lower back. I was uncomfortable with this, but I complied because he was my priest."
Mannian, who did not return calls for an interview, said in the court papers that when Gentile touched his penis, he pushed the priest's hand away. He said Gentile then took his hand and placed it on the priest's lap. Mannian recalled that Gentile was sexually aroused.
"He placed my hand on his erection one more time, and I pulled my hand away emphatically and told Gentile that I have to leave." Mannian said he quit being an altar boy immediately but did not tell his parents about the abuse for several years.
Always with the kids
Gentile stayed at St. Mary's in Poughkeepsie for five years, continuing to stay in touch with some of the parishioners in Wappingers Falls. In June 1976, he was transferred to St. Denis in Hopewell Junction, Dutchess County.
Msgr. Joseph Meehan, who served as pastor at St. Denis from 1976 to 1989, said that while there was no evidence of sexual transgressions, he was concerned about Gentile's close contact with children.
"I think he was foolish," said Meehan, now pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Suffern, Rockland County. "He was constantly taking kids on overnight trips. I talked to him about it. He brought them up to do work on the cottage.
"He had a van," said Meehan. "And he didn't hide that he was taking the kids. I wasn't crazy about it."
Meehan also objected to the fact that Gentile headed to the lake house practically every Friday night, leaving him to handle wedding rehearsals by himself.
Meehan also talked to Gentile "about having kids in the rectory. I told him, 'This is our home, not only your home.'
"The kids would be playing records and tapes," he added. "That ended when I told them they weren't welcome."
In June 1982, after fulfilling a customary six-year assignment at St. Denis, Gentile was sent to St. Mary's parish in Marlboro, Ulster County.
Complaints about him there made their way back to O'Gorman in Poughkeepsie. "The pastor complained to me, 'I got this old school bus that Jerry bought to transport the kids.' It wasn't even something the pastor had wanted."
In November 1983, after 18 months, Gentile was transferred to St. Eugene's in Yonkers. Six months later, he was off to St. Charles Borromeo in Ulster County. And in May 1984, after only one month, he was transferred to Immaculate Conception Church in Tuckahoe, Westchester County.
In a deposition given in connection with the 1997 lawsuit, Gentile said he asked to be transferred from St. Eugene's and stayed such a short time at St. Charles because he had filled in for an ailing priest.
Arrival at Holy Name of Mary
In April 1987, after less than three years at Immaculate Conception, Gentile was reassigned to Holy Name of Mary in Croton-on-Hudson. He stayed there for more than a decade.
During that time, Gentile revitalized the parish. He presided over a $405,000 church renovation. He established a program for alienated Catholics. He was named Volunteer of the Year by the New York State Health Facilities Association for his work with residents of a Croton nursing home.
He also was accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual abuse.
The Rev. Ron Lemmert, a priest since 1979, was assigned to Holy Name of Mary in 1988, a year after Gentile arrived. He said that sometime in 1993, Gentile told him that parishioner Anne Kennedy had accused him of "sexually abusing male teens."
Lemmert said he told Gentile that "perhaps he should not take any more trips away with unchaperoned male teens."
Gentile replied that another priest at the parish had offered the same advice. Lemmert said Gentile told him he would stop.
"Much to my dismay," Lemmert later wrote, "one week after I had given him this advice, he took four teenage boys unchaperoned on a four-day trip to Pennsylvania. After this incident, my concerns multiplied as he exhibited total disregard for propriety to satisfy his own needs."
In an interview last week, Kennedy said she had complained only about Gentile's abuse of authority.
She said he often took altar boys upstate to perform maintenance work on his lake house in return for community service credits for confirmation or school programs.
"They had to scrub walls, paint, put down a sidewalk, clean the stove," said Kennedy, who often clashed with Gentile.
Lemmert began to keep a closer eye on Gentile. He said he couldn't believe how many trips his superior was taking with the young boys of Holy Name. Some parishioners were beginning to notice, too.
On Dec. 30, 1995, Lemmert sent an anonymous letter to Msgr. George Thompson of the Archdiocese of New York's personnel board:
"On numerous occasions, the pastor, Gentile, has entertained young teenage boys overnight in the rectory. ... I think it is totally inappropriate for any priest to have teenage boys overnight in the rectory for any reason. In addition, he frequently takes them up to his lake cottage and has also taken them on week-long vacations."
"Whether he is having sexual intercourse with any of those boys or not, this type of behavior creates a lot of scandal, especially in a town of this size. That is why I beg you to look into this situation and talk some sense into this man. ... I think this man needs some serious counseling before he ruins his whole career."
Before long, it would be Lemmert's career that would be in jeopardy.
The Rev. Richard O'Gorman, left, said Gentile would frequently gather up a group of children and take them "here and there" without telling anyone else beforehand.
"It was always, 'The kids this, the kids that.'
As I recall, he talked about kids a lot. The kids were the focus of things."
[Photo Caption - Decades of Allegations: Tom McCulloch was a child when, he says, Gentile tried to sexually assault him. Tom McCulloch (right) holds picture of himself as a child. Above, McCulloch at 13, on trip where he was allegedly attacked by the Rev. Gennaro Gentile. "He was laughing at first, then it became a wrestling match as I tried to fight him off. He tried to pull my pajama bottoms off and I wouldn't allow it." Photo by Matt Hage.]
[Photo Caption - The Rev. Ron Lemmert, who was assigned to Gentile's
Holy Name of Mary parish in 1988, wrote a letter to the archdiocese, saying:
"I think it is totally inappropriate for any priest to have teenage
boys overnight in the rectory for any reason. ... I beg you to look into
[Photo Caption - Father Jerry: The Rev. Gennaro Gentile laughs heartily at a 1995 going-away party in the parish hall of Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson. Gentile was pastor from 1987 to 2000. The Rev. Gennaro Gentile has his arms around Stephen and Dodie McCullough in an undated family wedding photo. The McCullochs have six children, including Tom, who says he fought off the priest's advances when he was 13. Photo by Howard Simmons.]
Daily News Investigation
By Heidi Evans and Richard T. Pienciak with additional research by Ellen
Locker and Faigi Rosenthal
The Rev. Gennaro Gentile's close relationships with boys began drawing attention more than 30 years ago, but the Archdiocese of New York did little until 1997, when the parents of two teens filed a civil lawsuit accusing the priest of sexual misconduct.
Even then, the archdiocese, which also was named in the lawsuit, took notice only by embarking on a campaign to defend the priest and attack the teens' family.
The archdiocese sent a monsignor to Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson, where Gentile was pastor, on Sept. 28, 1997, to assure parishioners at five weekend Masses that the cleric was innocent.
"I am here to express my and the archdiocese's support for him," said Msgr. Edward O'Donnell, who was then director of priest personnel for John Cardinal O'Connor. "This civil lawsuit is about money damages. There is no substance to the civil suit."
In November, Patricia and Vincent Nauheimer settled their lawsuit against Gentile, now 55, who served at Holy Name from 1987 to 2000; the archdiocese had been dropped as a defendant. The couple, bound by a confidentiality agreement, declined comment.
Gentile, who is known as Father Jerry, and archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling also declined comment, and O'Donnell, who is now vicar of priests for the archdiocese, failed to return several phone calls.
Court documents in the Nauheimers' lawsuit, however, accuse Gentile of a pattern of sexual abuse against their sons that began in April 1993.
According to the lawsuit, Gentile showed Vincent Nauheimer Jr., then 15, an erotic catalogue depicting male models "posed seductively in sexually provocative clothing." Vincent said Gentile asked him to "choose a gift for himself," but he declined.
Two months later, in June 1993, Gentile took Vincent Jr. and several other boys to his five-bedroom house on Ballston Lake in Saratoga County. Gentile calls the 2-acre property "Jerry's Retreat."
After complaining of sore muscles, Vincent was instructed by Gentile to remove his shirt and lay down on his stomach, according to the lawsuit. The priest straddled the boy and began massaging him with oil - all while the other boys watched a movie in the same room, the suit says.
Vincent said Gentile began with his shoulders and back, then progressed down to his genitals. Embarrassed, the boy said he asked Gentile to stop, and he did.
Vincent returned home from the weekend and told no one of the incident.
Nearly a year later, in April 1994, the Nauheimers accepted an offer from Gentile - then a frequent and welcome visitor - to make dinner at their home.
As he prepared the meal, Gentile boasted how he had added a half bottle of hard liquor to one of the dishes. He did this fully aware that the boys' father was a recovering alcoholic, according to papers filed in the lawsuit.
After dinner the family began watching a video that Gentile had brought along - "The Hobbit."
At around 9 p.m., both Nauheimer parents went upstairs to put their other children to bed. That left their son, Brian, then 13, and Gentile alone in the basement family room.
First, according to court papers, the priest beckoned the boy to sit closer. Then he began twirling the child's hair, and touching his ears and neck in "a sexually provocative manner." The frightened boy ran upstairs to tell his mother.
The Nauheimers consulted with another priest, who said he would talk to Gentile. That priest later told the Nauheimers that Gentile had assured him it would never happen again.
The Nauheimers decided to let the matter rest. But their story does not end there.
Based on interviews with priests, men who say they were victimized by Gentile, parents, former and current parishioners, former co-workers and eyewitnesses, as well as sworn affidavits, other court documents, confidential correspondence and public records, here is more of the story of the Rev. Gennaro Gentile:
In August 1994, a Holy Name parishioner named Karen Mahakian asked Gentile for advice on her 14-year-old son Evan, who had been behaving erratically after his father had moved out, according to court papers.
Gentile volunteered to take Evan up to Ballston Lake for the weekend to talk to the boy.
They were joined for dinner at the lake house by a Holy Name deacon and his wife. The Rev. Ron Lemmert, who worked with Gentile at Holy Name and had sent an anonymous warning about the priest to the archdiocese personnel board the year before, said the deacon later told him he'd seen Gentile give the youngster liquor that night.
Although he would remain silent for more than two years, Evan Mahakian eventually told the following narrative to his mother and several religious personnel at Holy Name:
Alone after dinner, Gentile gave Evan more to drink. The boy recalled that he "felt high from it."
Gentile told Evan he wanted to discuss his home life. With that, he took him into his bedroom and told the child he "needed a massage to relax."
The priest removed Evan's shirt, applied oil to his body, took off his own shirt, then straddled the boy. Evan said the massage took place on the bed and on the floor, court papers say.
Evan kept his secret, but as the months progressed he grew more troubled. He committed acts of self-mutilation, and while hospitalized in 1996, he revealed details of his night at Gentile's lake house to a therapist.
The therapist wanted Evan's mom to press charges. Instead, in October 1996, Karen Mahakian reached out to Lemmert.
A meeting was convened with Lemmert, the deacon, the church youth counselor and Karen Mahakian, according to court papers. It was agreed that Karen Mahakian would make a formal complaint to O'Donnell at the archdiocesan headquarters.
At O'Donnell's request, Lemmert said, he wrote a three-page letter on Nov. 7, 1996, spelling out his concerns about Gentile's relationships with so many boys in the parish.
He said he had grown uncomfortable with the frequent unchaperoned trips to the lake house and the boys sleeping over in Gentile's rectory bedroom.
Lemmert also said he had discovered that the rectory had new cable TV service; for the first time, it included a pornography channel. In closing, Lemmert said he feared that "the number of teenage boys involved is staggering."
Shortly before Thanksgiving 1996, O'Donnell convened a meeting with Karen Mahakian and her son Evan, the youth counselor and Gentile.
It was agreed that Gentile would no longer take unchaperoned trips with young boys, that he would get counseling and that he would attend group therapy for sex offenders, Lemmert said he was told.
But today, no one - other than Gentile and archdiocesan officials - knows whether any of the terms were fulfilled.
Uncertain that the matter had been adequately handled, Lemmert said he felt under siege. He was hospitalized for stress. He moved out of the rectory and started a job as chaplain at Sing Sing prison. But he still said Mass at Holy Name on the weekends and wanted to keep his link to the parish.
O'Donnell visited Lemmert at his hospital bed and asked him "not to discuss the Mahakian matter with others."
Then, on Dec. 2, 1996, Gentile wrote to Lemmert at Sing Sing informing him that his weekend services were no longer needed at Holy Name. "I would appreciate the keys back at your earliest convenience," the letter said.
Two days later, Lemmert received a second missive: "I think it is inappropriate for you to attend the Saturday 5 p.m. Mass and sing in the choir. Msgr. O'Donnell also thinks it is inappropriate."
During a weekend in March 1997, a group of Holy Name teenagers went on a religious retreat. Attendees were encouraged to discuss their problems "in an effort to help them heal," according to Brian Nauheimer, one of the weekend's youth leaders.
In the lawsuit, Brian recalled that another of the attendees, Evan Mahakian, confided "that he had something that was really bothering him and asked me if he could talk to me about it."
Mahakian proceeded to tell Brian of the night he had spent at Gentile's lake house - the plying with alcohol, the oil, the massage, the straddling. "Evan said that he blacked out at some point during the massage," Brian said in court papers.
Evan also told Brian he had buried the incident until he underwent therapy.
He said that O'Donnell had made Gentile apologize to him in return for his promise of confidentiality.
At that point, Brian Nauheimer told Evan Mahakian of his own disturbing encounter with Gentile, according to court papers.
Brian Nauheimer was livid. He told his parents about Evan, and demanded that they take action.
In an affidavit she filed in her lawsuit, Patricia Nauheimer said Evan's mother confirmed details of her son's trip to the lake house and showed her a document she described as an official report from her son's therapist. Karen Mahakian told her she had read it to O'Donnell the night of their meeting.
Karen Mahakian also showed Patricia Nauheimer a letter she had received from O'Donnell discussing the situation.
When Karen Mahakian complained that she did not have enough money to pay for Evan's ongoing therapy, O'Donnell said he would try to work something out, according to Lemmert.
Soon thereafter, Karen Mahakian, who declined a Daily News request for an interview, stopped talking publicly about her son's trip to the lake house and his costly therapy. Sources have told The News she is bound by a confidentiality agreement with the archdiocese.
But according to Patricia Nauheimer's affidavit, Karen Mahakian became enraged when she learned that the money for her son's therapy was coming from the Holy Name of Mary indigent fund.
Nauheimers get nowhere
Spurred on by his son Brian, Vincent Nauheimer called Lemmert, who recommended that he call O'Donnell.
The complaint went nowhere, said Lemmert.
And shortly thereafter, O'Donnell summoned Lemmert to meet him at the archdiocesan seminary in Yonkers. There, Lemmert said, O'Donnell assured him that a committee was "looking into the actions of Father Gentile."
But on May 13, 1997, O'Donnell wrote to Lemmert: "In the current climate of allegations concerning Father Gennaro Gentile, allegations which he firmly rejects, Father Gentile has expressed concern that through your contacts and conversations with people in the parish community, you may be contributing to rumors and accounts which are either untrue or distortions, and which do harm to his reputation."
A vigorous defense
Vincent and Patricia Nauheimer filed their civil lawsuit on behalf of both sons in state court in White Plains in August 1997.
By now, Vincent Jr. had told of his incidents - Gentile showing him the erotic catalogue and the oil massage at the lake house.
The Nauheimers charged Gentile with civil assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. They also sued the archdiocese under the theory that Gentile worked for the church and that the archdiocese had hired him negligently and failed to properly supervise him. They sought $55 million.
On Sept. 28, 1997, O'Donnell addressed Holy Name parishioners at five Masses. He said church lawyers believed the suit was "without foundation" and asked for trust in the judicial process.
Several days later, Zwilling, the archdiocesan spokesman, told the Catholic New York newspaper that Gentile would continue to carry out his duties at Holy Name.
The article also quoted unidentified archdiocesan officials as saying "there have been no other complaints of that nature made against Father Gentile, now or in the past."
The Nauheimers were under intense pressure. Many of their fellow parishioners were appalled that the couple accused a priest of such behavior.
The Nauheimers released an open letter to the parish, saying they filed suit only after the archdiocese "ignored us until we forced them to meet with us. After our meeting, they ignored us again and placed a gag order on Father Ron [Lemmert]. The archdiocese left us no choice."
The Nauheimers offered to drop the lawsuit under two conditions: They wanted Gentile removed as pastor and they wanted the archdiocese to adopt a Megan's Law for clergy - a policy requiring that parishioners be advised of any sexual misconduct allegations against a priest made before he arrives or during his stay.
O'Donnell and Zwilling were forced to make one concession, though.
Many now knew of the Mahakian allegations - certainly the Nauheimers. So why had the archdiocese contended it knew of "no other complaints of that nature made against Father Gentile?"
O'Donnell acknowledged to Catholic New York and The Gazette, a local weekly, that there in fact had been another incident, though he and Zwilling downplayed it.
Zwilling said O'Donnell had met with Gentile and the boy's mother to discuss the priest's "interpersonal contact" with her son. "And that was that," Zwilling said.
O'Donnell quoted Gentile as saying he did not consider the incident sexual, that the boy had not made a claim of sexual misconduct, and that his mother had "accepted the outcome" of the discussion.
An adult eyewitness
When Holy Name parishioners Peggy and Robert Ellsberg, both holding Harvard doctorates, heard about the Nauheimer lawsuit and the archdiocese's claims that it was unaware of any other sexual-abuse allegations against Gentile, they said they felt guilty and angry.
In the summer of 1995, Gentile invited the Ellsbergs, then one of the parish's newest families, to Ballston Lake for the weekend.
The Ellsbergs accepted, but when at the last minute, Robert said he could not attend, Gentile told him he could not allow an unchaperoned woman to spend the night at his house. The priest said he would invite others to join Peggy and the couple's 8-year-old son.
In an interview, Peggy Ellsberg said the others turned out to be three teenage boys.
Soon after her arrival, she said, the boys showed her son a book they'd found on "sensual massage" with pictures of naked men and women.
That evening, she witnessed Gentile intensely massaging a 12-year-old boy dressed only in a bathing suit.
"The kid was sitting on the arm of a couch and he was behind him," Peggy Ellsberg told The News. "It was a very dirty scene."
When she tried to make light conversation, she said, Gentile appeared to be oblivious to her presence, focused solely on rubbing the boy.
The next morning, Ellsberg, a professor of English at Barnard College, packed her bags and returned home.
When she mentioned the incident to several parishioners, she said they told her to "'Keep it quiet. Don't tell anybody. It will ruin his career.'" She took their advice.
When the Nauheimers went public, Ellsberg said she realized she had witnessed "part of a larger picture." She said she regretted her silence, and called O'Donnell, anxious to tell him what she had observed at the cottage two summers before.
"He was very cool," Ellsberg recalled. "'Oh, I find it so hard to believe. Are you sure that is what you saw?'" she recalled him saying.
She said O'Donnell also wondered: "'Isn't it simply the case that he is Italian?'" suggesting that Italians are physically demonstrative.
"'Monsignor,' I said, 'I am Italian. And where I come from, if a man does this to a little boy, he gets shot.'"
At least several Holy Name parishioners urged O'Donnell and John Cardinal O'Connor to remove Gentile from the parish and to conduct a thorough investigation.
On Oct. 24, 1997, O'Connor replied to one parishioner's letter: "I have discussed the matter with Msgr. O'Donnell. I can assure you that we share your concern and we are anxious to move toward a resolution which respects the rights of all who are involved."
Statute of limitations
The Nauheimer lawsuit worked its way through the system. Attorneys for the archdiocese and for Gentile employed many of the same legal strategies that have made it difficult to prosecute priests on sexual misconduct across the country - most notably the argument that the statute of limitations had passed on the more serious charges involving Vincent Jr.
By early 1998, only one count remained against Gentile, a charge of civil assault and battery involving the touching of Brian, which the defense took to calling hair twirling. Only one count remained against the archdiocese, too - that it had failed to properly supervise Gentile and had allowed him to continue working at Holy Name after complaints had surfaced.
But the Nauheimers faced a tough challenge: They would have to prove that the archdiocese knew about Gentile's pattern of behavior before Brian's encounter with the priest in April 1994.
On Sept. 15, 1999, state Supreme Court Justice Orazio Bellantoni dismissed the remaining count against the archdiocese, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to show that the archdiocese had any knowledge of Gentile's "propensity to commit the alleged acts" before April 1994.
Bellantoni ordered a trial for the lone remaining count against Gentile. As the trial date neared, the priest settled with the Nauheimers in November. The terms of the deal are confidential.
Gentile had already left Holy Name, and spent the summer of 2000 helping out at a parish in Rome.
Within months of his return, the archdiocese sent him to fill in for a sick priest at St. Benedict's Church in the Bronx. But parishioners there quickly learned of his past. They threatened to withhold donations if he was not removed. Gentile stayed there less than two weeks.
Today, Gentile works on annulments for the archdiocese at an office in the Catholic Center in Poughkeepsie. He also fills in saying weekend Mass in area parishes.
Peggy Ellsberg's husband, Robert, said of Gentile: "This is someone who used his status as a priest to win the trust and friendship of families, who then entrusted him with their children, and acted out his erotic attractions. You would think that the church would come down on that like a ton of bricks. Instead their only concern was legal liability."
Tom McCulloch, who said in an affidavit and in an interview with The News that he was victimized by Gentile in 1973 when he was 13, offered: "They should have removed him a long time ago when these complaints started coming in."
And the Rev. Richard O'Gorman, who first noticed "a problem" when he worked with Gentile in 1971, said: "Someone should have kicked him in the ass long before."
Msgr. Edward O'Donnell, left, was sent to Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson, where Gentile was pastor, on Sept. 28, 1997, to assure parishioners at five weekend Masses that the cleric was innocent.
"I am here to express my and the archdiocese's support for him. This civil lawsuit is about money damages. There is no substance to the civil suit."
Letters and a Lawsuit
The archdiocese said, "There have been no other complaints of that nature made against Father Gentile, now or in the past."
[Photo Caption - He Said, He Said: A letter from Msgr. Edward O'Donnell (left) to the Rev. Ron Lemmert (right), written shortly after an allegation of sexual abuse against the Rev. Gennaro Gentile, accuses Lemmert of "contributing to rumors ... which are untrue."]
Patricia and Vincent Nauheimer released an open letter after they were criticized for suing Gentile and the Archdiocese of New York:
"We did not want to sue. We tried not to sue. It is hard to fathom why, but the archdiocese refuses to change."
[Photo Caption - Sent Packing: The Rev. Gennaro Gentile (right) who is known as Father Jerry to parishioners, sent a letter to the Rev. Ron Lemmert (left) saying his participation at Mass was inappropriate, after Lemmert warned church officials of Gentile's behavior.]
[Photo Caption - The Rev. Gennaro Gentile took frequent unchaperoned
trips with teenage boys to his home in upstate New York and had sleepovers
in his rectory bedroom, according to court papers and eyewitnesses. Statue
of the Virgin Mary (above) and religious icon of St. Francis of Assisi
have a place at the Rev. Gennaro Gentile's home in upstate Ballston Lake.
Above the entrance to Gentile's home rests a wooden plaque with the words:
Jerry's Retreat. As lawsuit alleging sexual abuse neared trial, the Rev.
Gennaro Gentile settled out of court in November.
Bishop Accountability © 2003