Priest accused of sexually assaulting parishioner denies claims but admits to having affair

NJ Advance Media

January 5, 2021

By Matt Gray

A New Jersey priest has acknowledged he had an affair with a woman who recently filed a lawsuit alleging he sexually assaulted her.

The Rev. Robert L. Sinatra, of St. Padre Pio Parish in Vineland, admitted the affair in a Jan. 2 letter to parishioners, but denied that he assaulted the woman.

“With a deep sense of embarrassment and shame, I write to let you know that in late 2018 I had a two-month affair with an unmarried woman,” Sinatra wrote.

The letter and the woman’s lawsuit do not identify her by name. The suit describes her as a parishioner who participated in church activities.

Sinatra remains at his post with the parish and the Camden Diocese has no plans to remove him at this time, a spokesman said.

Sinatra met with Bishop Dennis Sullivan, head of the Camden Diocese, to report the transgression and ended the affair, according to the letter, which notes that the woman also met with Sullivan in July 2019.

Sullivan allowed Sinatra to continue serving as a priest while he “agreed to seek spiritual direction and counseling to prevent any future lapses.”

Sinatra, who was named pastor of the St. Padre Pio Parish in 2015, said he paid for a year of counseling to help the woman deal with the situation and Sullivan agreed that the diocese would pay for additional counseling.

“Although ending this relationship was difficult for me, it was obviously very difficult for her as well,” Sinatra wrote.

Though Sinatra said he blocked the woman’s phone number and severed any known social media connections with her, “she still found occasions to be in my presence,” he wrote.

She filed the civil suit in state Superior Court on Dec. 18.

It names the parish as defendant and accuses supervisors of failing to recognize that Sinatra posed a danger to others.

“Fr. Sinatra exploited his position of authority over Plaintiff as a priest, counselor and spiritual director,” the suit states. “Defendant and the Diocese knew or should have known that Fr. Sinatra was a danger to parishioners before Fr. Sinatra sexually assaulted Plaintiff.”

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