NJ priest serving life sentence for rape has died. But trauma continues for his victims

NorthJersey.com [Woodland Park NJ]

January 31, 2023

By Deena Yellin

A former New Jersey priest who was serving a life sentence in Massachusetts for raping a child has died, authorities said.

Romano Ferraro admitted during a Parole Board hearing to sexually abusing “numerous” children and has prompted lawsuits by alleged victims in New Jersey, New York, Missouri and Florida. He served in Catholic parishes in Middlesex County during the 1980s and was eventually removed from the priesthood in 2011.

Ferraro was “one of the most prolific priest pedophiles on the East Coast,” according to the website of Adam Horowitz, an attorney representing a former altar boy who sued the Diocese of Metuchen in New Jersey.

Advocates for clergy abuse survivors cite Ferraro as proof of the church’s failure in New Jersey to live up to its promises of transparency about sexual assault. While he is included on lists of “credibly accused” priests issued by the Diocese of Brooklyn and Archdiocese of St. Louis, his name is absent from the list released by the Metuchen Diocese in 2019.

An investigation published Sunday by the USA Today Network New Jersey found that the state’s five Catholic dioceses have been slow to update their accused-priest lists despite hundreds of new lawsuits and settlements since the documents were made public four years ago.

Ferraro “was a dangerous predator who abused young boys in every assignment he ever had,” said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “For years, church officials put children in harm’s way. This is why institutions need to be held accountable.”

Ferraro, 89, died on Jan. 21, according to Samantha Higgins, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Correction. He spent his final days at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital Correctional Unit in Boston. The cause of death was not immediately available.

A jury convicted him in 2004 of sexually assaulting a Massachusetts boy repeatedly over a six-year span, starting when the boy was 7 years old, and sentenced him to life in prison.

During a 2019 hearing, Ferraro estimated he had molested as many as 20 children and said he was “dreadfully sorry” for having assaulted so many, according to a Parole Board report. He described his actions as “terrible, morally sinful.” The board denied his request for freedom the following year, saying it did not see enough signs of rehabilitation and did not consider his release “compatible with the welfare of society.”

Middlesex churches

In New Jersey, Ferraro, who was ordained in 1960, served for a time at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Middlesex and at St. John Vianney in Woodbridge. In the lawsuit filed against the Metuchen Diocese, his accuser said the priest abused him for three years beginning in 1984, when he was an 11-year-old altar boy.

The suit alleged that officials in the Brooklyn and Metuchen dioceses knew Ferraro had a history of abuse allegations but did nothing about it, instead transferring the priest from one parish to another.

The suit was eventually settled out of court.

Reached last week, Philip Guecia, whom Ferraro assaulted in the Massachusetts case, said the death stirred complex emotions.

“Does the fact that he died in prison change anything? Has anything changed? Has the Catholic Church changed?” Guecia, who now lives in Maine, asked in an interview. “His death didn’t change my life. His abuse changed my life.” Now 56, Guecia has gone on to marry and have a family of his own. “I hope more people come forward to tell their stories,” he said. “The truth matters.”

The former altar boy who sued the Metuchen Diocese is now 47 and living in Hudson County. Of Ferraro, he said, “He’s gone now, but the damage he brought doesn’t go away with his death.

“I don’t know if happy is the right word, maybe relieved that he finally is gone,” said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Brian. “Unfortunately, I’m just as broken as I was yesterday. He did a lot of damage to a lot of people.”

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: yellin@northjersey.com

Twitter: @deenayellin