Sex Scandal Priests Won't Be Housed at Larchmont Retreat

By Gary Stern
The Journal News [Larchmont NY]
September 16, 2006

The Archdiocese of New York will not send priests accused of sexual abuse to a retreat house in Larchmont after neighbors expressed concern about even the temporary presence of such priests in their community.

Late last month, the archdiocese said it was creating a new supervision program to keep tabs on a small number of accused priests who were not defrocked by the Vatican. Seven men were given the choice of leaving the priesthood or entering the supervision program.

Trinity Retreat in Larchmont was to be used to temporarily house priests under supervision until permanent housing could be found for them.

Five of the seven men chose to leave the priesthood. Of the two others, one was sent to Larchmont and the other was scheduled to join him.

Over the past few weeks, though, members of the Pryer Manor Association in Larchmont, other Larchmont residents and Mamaroneck Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe all expressed reservations to the archdiocese about the priests who are part of what is called the "Shepherd's Program."

In recent days, the archdiocese decided to find other locations for priests entering the supervision program, said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.

"We will not be using Trinity Retreat as a temporary place for the Shepherd's Program or any similar-type program," he said.

The one priest who had been sent to Trinity has been relocated to a medical facility, Zwilling said. No priest accused of sexually abusing a minor is currently at Trinity Retreat, he said.

In a letter sent yesterday to O'Keeffe, Zwilling wrote that the archdiocese will not send anyone to Trinity "if we know that he has been found to have committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor or if there has been a substantive allegation of sexual abuse of a minor."

The directors of Trinity Retreat have called a public meeting for tomorrow afternoon to answer questions that neighbors might still have.

Eleanor Sherman, one Larchmont resident who was concerned that Trinity Retreat had been chosen for the supervision program without any community input, was satisfied with the decision.

"The problem was, there was no communication with the community," she said. "If that's it, cheers."

O'Keeffe said she was not ready to comment at this time.

Trinity Retreat is just off Long Island Sound, in a woodsy, affluent neighborhood. It was founded by Cardinal Terence Cooke to host priests and others for prayer groups, spiritual retreats and quiet reflection.

The associate director, the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, a psychologist, is one of the country's best-known priests, thanks to his appearances on the EWTN television network and decades of retreat work around the world.

As of early last year, about two dozen New York priests were being held out of ministry because they faced allegations of sexually abusing minors. Eight were involuntarily defrocked last year by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict XVI headed before being elected pontiff.

Dioceses across the country have had to figure out how to deal with priests who they consider to be credibly accused but who were not removed from the priesthood by the Vatican, in many cases because of advanced age.

The New York archdiocese devised the Shepherd's Program, which promises lifelong supervision, and gave the seven men the option of signing up or leaving the priesthood on their own.


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