Accused Priest Is Placed on Leave
New Bishop Reverses Rodimer's Ruling

By Maya Kremen and Makeba Scott Hunter
Herald News
October 20, 2004

Reversing a decision made under a previous bishop, the leader of the Diocese of Paterson has put a Clifton priest on administrative leave for allegedly fondling a minor more than 20 years ago, the diocese said Tuesday.

The accusation was made in the 1990s, when a man in his 20s told the diocese that the Rev. Andrew Perretta had touched him inappropriately a decade earlier. The diocese decided at that time that the allegation was not credible. Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, who replaced former Bishop Frank J. Rodimer in July, recently reviewed the allegation and found it credible, said Marianna Thompson, spokeswoman for the diocese.

"When Bishop Serratelli looked at this, he had a clear and present concern," Thompson said. "After assessing the information, he felt the best course of action was to review the priest."

Perretta, the parochial vicar at Sacred Heart R.C. Church in Clifton, denies all charges of abuse, Thompson said. The 56-year-old priest has moved out of the church's rectory and is living in private housing while the diocese reviews his case, she said.

Thompson said the victim claims to have been abused in Passaic County but would not be any more specific about the location. She would not comment on the nature of the charges other than to say they involved "inappropriate touching."

The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office said it received word of the allegation in 2002, years after the alleged victim spoke with the diocese. The diocese first informed the Prosecutor's Office about the allegation in 2002 and provided a list of other priests accused of sexually abusing minors, said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Del Russo.

The alleged victim said he was abused between the ages of 9 and 16, between 1979 and 1986, Del Russo said. The Prosecutor's Office deemed the case past the statute of limitations for bringing a criminal suit in 2002, Del Russo said.

Perretta was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1974 and previously served at St. Mary Help of Christians R.C. Church in Paterson. He could not be reached for comment.

The diocese dismissed a separate, recent allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Sacred Heart's main priest, Monsignor Julian Varettoni. The diocese's review board found there was insufficient information to determine his guilt, Thompson said. He was unavailable for comment, a church secretary said.

Perretta is the first priest Serratelli has removed from the ministry since he recently began reviewing the cases of priests accused of sexually abusing minors during the past few decades. He started reviewing the cases to "restore confidence" in diocesan priests, Thompson said.

Under new, stricter guidelines adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002, a bishop can remove a priest after a single credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. If diocesan officials deem the allegation against Perretta credible, his case could be sent to Rome. There he could be permanently removed from the priesthood, or subjected to a church trial within the Diocese of Paterson.

Reach Maya Kremen at (973) 569-7168


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