Victims Group Wants Priest Gone

By Stephanie Saul
Newsday [Staten Island NY]
January 23, 2004

A victims group yesterday demanded that the Archdiocese of New York remove a prominent Staten Island priest who remains in ministry despite sexual abuse allegations.

Msgr. Thomas Gaffney is still pastor of the Church of St. Charles even though a Morristown, N.J., man has accused Gaffney of repeatedly raping him when he was an altar boy.

Dan O'Dougherty, now 29, said he was in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades when the abuse occurred at St. Charles.

Gaffney could not be reached for comment yesterday. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said the priest of 54 years has "adamantly and vehemently" denied the charges.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national organization, yesterday said the Archdiocese has failed to follow a procedure established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The procedure requires that priests facing "credible allegations" of sexual abuse be removed pending an investigation.

"It is distressing to know that a priest with credible allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor is being left in ministry in direct violation of the charter passed by Catholic Bishops in June 2002," said David Cerulli, the organization's New York director.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said officials had been stymied in an investigation because O'Dougherty has declined to cooperate.

"Because we have not been given a chance to interview him, despite repeated requests, we have let Msgr. Gaffney remain as pastor at least until we have further information," Zwilling said.

O'Dougherty held a news conference Monday to air his story. He had first reported the abuse in October to the Staten Island district attorney and the archdiocese, according to his lawyer, Bruce Nagel. The D.A. has not discussed the investigation; however, the statute of limitations has long expired.

Since then, Nagel said, a second man has come forward to him with very similar accusations against Gaffney. Nagel said the man, who wants to remain anonymous, said the abuse occurred when Gaffney was principal at St. Joseph by the Sea High School, also on Staten Island.

"At this stage, our main goal is to let the public know there is a predator in a collar in Staten Island," Nagel said.

The Survivors Network said O'Dougherty's reluctance to be interviewed should not impede the investigation.

"A sworn statement, which has already been presented to the Archdiocese, is sufficient," Cerulli said.