Park Ridge Pastor Denies Sex Abuse Allegations

By Alexander Macinnes
The Record
September 13, 2010

PARK RIDGE Speaking from the pulpit during Sunday morning Mass, a Catholic priest denied allegations of sexual abuse of "young children," citing an investigation earlier this year by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office that did not result in any charges.

The Rev. Charles P. Granstrand, pastor at Our Lady of Mercy, publicly defended himself before a largely sympathetic and supportive congregation, just after Communion and just before the second collection. Granstrand's comments come one week after two individuals passed out fliers seeking information of more victims at a town-sponsored fireworks event.

"I can tell you very simply that this allegation is not true," Granstrand said. "I have never done such a thing."

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli confirmed Sunday that his office was asked to investigate the matter earlier this year. He would not disclose any details on when the alleged incident occurred or who requested it.

"Yes, we were asked to look into it," Molinelli said. "Yes, we investigated it, and it did not result in the filing of any charges."

On Sunday, Granstrand said he cooperated fully with authorities.

"I was informed about the allegation in early April, a few days after Easter, by an officer of the county Prosecutor's Office and by a member of the Park Ridge Police Department," he told his congregation from a prepared text at both the 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Masses. "A full, fair and thorough investigation followed. I have cooperated fully with the inquiry. The legal process found no reason to pursue the matter further."

At the earlier Mass, congregants received the news without much reaction. During the 9:30 a.m. Mass, the congregation broke into applause after Granstrand's speech. Afterward, Granstrand declined comment and referred questions to the Prosecutor's Office.

In the parking lot of Our Lady of Mercy, church members said they were surprised to hear of the allegations.

"Never in a million years," said Hank Zulauf of Park Ridge. "I've been a parishioner here for more than 30 years, and he's the most holiest and solemn pastor."

Alessandra Lofaro ushered her two children into her station wagon after the midmorning service.

"I'm very much surprised," she said. "And, I'm very happy he was very open about this. I really trust him very much."

Still, the father of one of the alleged victims told The Record in a phone interview Sunday that his son and another boy were both abused when they were students at Our Lady of Mercy School in 1996. Louis Romano said the alleged incident was a catalyst for his son Steven's spiral into drugs and trouble. In 2008 Steven Romano was arrested on 13 arson charges by the Montclair State University police. Romano's arrest capped an alleged six-week-long arson spree that damaged several campus buildings. Steven Romano is awaiting trial in the Bergen County Jail, his father said.

The Rev. Robert M. Hoatson, founder of a victim's rights group of church abuse, said he and his group canvassed the fireworks event looking for more people to come forward.

Joseph Rem, Steven Romano's lawyer in that arson case, said Sunday that the Granstrand matter could still be revived.

"This matter still has a long way to go," Rem said. "The Prosecutor's Office is always free, in the future, to make a different decision with additional information."

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