St. Philomena Priest Steps down to Defend Charges

By Marilyn Joyce Lehren and Sonya Kimble-Ellis
The Patch
July 4, 2011

The parish priest of St. Philomena Church in Livingston said he is stepping down temporarily to defend clergy abuse allegations filed against him and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark.

“I tell you today that I have never abused a child,” The Rev. John J. Laferrera said in a letter read to parishioners during services this weekend.

The men who claim the abuse more than 30 years ago have protested outside of St. Philomena on several Sundays since a lawsuit was filed in March. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Archdiocese of Newark Review Board are reviewing their case.

Laferrera, a monsignor at St. Philomena, said he is taking the leave of absence to devote time to his defense of the misconduct claims.

“It is said that in this country which values -- above all else -- the presumption of innocence, priests are treated as guilty immediately,” Laferrera said. “My reputation has been damaged and I must use all of my energy to repair it, although I know in my heart that such damage may be irreparable.”

The Star-Ledger reported Laferrera’s leave in Sunday’s newspaper. Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese, said he would not be making further comment other than the quote that appears in the newspaper: “The review board has started looking into this matter and talking with people involved and will be taking its time in order to get a full picture.”

According to Road to Recovery, two of the alleged victims, brothers Danny and Sammy Rivera, appeared on June 23 before the review board and told their stories about alleged abuse while they were altar boys.

Laferrera has served at St. Philomena for the past seven years. Before that he served 13 years at St. Aloysius in Caldwell. The members of the class-action civil lawsuit against Laferrera are making claims of abuse that happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while he was pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Newark.

The charges first surfaced in 2009 when the Prosecutor’s Office and Archdiocese Review Board concluded that allegations made by an alleged victim, Ernie Fabregas, were “insupportable,” Laferrera said.

“I was thankful then, and remain thankful today that my innocence was affirmed,” Laferrera said. “I had thought that my ordeal had ended. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

Road to Recovery said other men have since come forward with their own stories of abuse while altar boys at the Newark church. According to Gregory Gianforcaro, legal counsel for the men, “I understand that the first victim who came forward was held non-credible. But under the circumstances, the Archdiocese has to go back and look at those (new) claims.”

Rev. Msgr. Kevin Hanbury, the Archdiocese’s Superintendent of Schools, will take on the additional duty as administrator of St. Philomena on July 4.

In March, Laferrera spoke to parishioners directly to proclaim his innocence. Some church members denounced the demonstrations outside of church, while others said despite the announcement this was the first they knew of the charges.

Marcy Hernandez, who has been attending St. Philomena’s for a year and a half, said last week, “This is the first time I’m hearing about any allegations. I would like to talk to other people here at the church before I pass judgment on anyone.”


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