Parish Priest Removed Due to Allegations of Sex Abuse Decades Ago

By Gary Stern
Journal News (Westchester County, NY)
July 23, 2003

WEST HARRISON - After several months without facing new scandals, the Archdiocese of New York has removed a popular priest from his West Harrison parish because of a recent accusation that he sexually abused a minor two decades ago.

The Rev. Lawrence Inzeo, 54, who has led the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in the Silver Lake section of Harrison since 1996, was removed from the ministry late last week. An official from the archdiocese addressed parishioners at Sunday's Masses to explain the sudden loss of their pastor.

Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that someone recently came forward to accuse Inzeo of sexual misconduct at his first parish assignment, Sacred Heart Church in Newburgh. Inzeo served there as an assistant pastor after his ordination in 1978.

Zwilling said the archdiocese contacted the district attorneys' offices in Orange and Westchester counties. "After working with them, we removed Father Inzeo from the parish," he said.

The archdiocese provided information about Inzeo's removal from the ministry after yesterday's editions of The Journal News quoted Inzeo and identified him as pastor in an article about St. Anthony of Padua in the special section, A Day in the Life of Harrison and Rye.

Cardinal Edward Egan, who has been traveling in Europe, was kept abreast of the allegations and Inzeo's removal, Zwilling said. Egan will return to New York early next week after visiting Rome and making a pilgrimage to Malta.

In May of last year, as the dimensions of the Catholic Church's sex-abuse crisis were starting to become clear, Egan promised to alert district attorneys of all allegations of sex abuse against priests.

"We are very heartened that the archdiocese called us immediately, pursuant to the protocol we established last year," Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro said. "We are working together on this."

Inzeo faces no criminal charges, but an investigation is ongoing, Pirro said.

Inzeo joins about a dozen priests who are facing accusations they abused minors and are waiting for Egan to decide their fates. Most of the priests have been removed from ministry for more than a year and have had their cases heard by a lay review board that makes recommendations to Egan. In several instances, the allegations date back several years or even decades.

The archdiocese has said little about the investigations or the priests' whereabouts, even though those parishioners who support accused priests have in some cases demanded information.

The specifics of each allegation are not revealed by the archdiocese.

In recent weeks, Zwilling has said that priests who are permanently removed from the ministry will be identified in Catholic New York, a monthly archdiocese newspaper. He could not say yesterday whether there might be news in the early August issue.

"It will be after the cardinal has met with them," he said. "There is no information at this time."

Inzeo, who was raised in the Bronx, served as an assistant pastor in Newburgh, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Mount Kisco and at Resurrection Church in Rye before becoming pastor of St. Anthony of Padua.

He has been a well-liked pastor at St. Anthony, a heavily Italian parish that hosts an Italian festival each June that draws close to 20,000 people.

Soon after arriving in West Harrison, Inzeo brought a statue of St. Anthony to the parish from Padua, Italy.

Egan celebrated Mass at St. Anthony of Padua in July 2001, standing beside Inzeo and speaking in Italian to parishioners.

David Lanni, a parishioner whose family has been running the Italian festival since 1968, said he and other parishioners would support Inzeo.

"I've known the man well since the first day he came," Lanni said. "I'd go to the wall for him. He is an innocent man, a wonderful man. He will suffer because the church has to look like it's doing something. He is guilty until proven innocent." Lanni credited Inzeo with refurbishing the church, putting an addition on the parish school and revitalizing the parish's lay societies.

At the quiet school yesterday, Sister Mary Lynn, the principal, said that she knew little about the accusations against Inzeo.

"I'm just shocked," she said. "No one around here was prepared for this."


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