Wayne Parishioners Stunned by Pastor's Suspension

The Record
May 23, 2014

Parishioners at a church in Wayne said they were stunned on Friday after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson suspended their popular pastor for allowing another priest, who has been accused of sexually abusing children in a widely publicized case, to attend a family festival last week.

Monsignor Chris Di Lella, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Roman Catholic parish in Wayne

Bishop Arthur Serratelli on Friday told the pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Monsignor Chris Di Lella, that he was being placed on administrative leave and that his priestly faculties were being suspended, which means he is not allowed to wear the clerical collar or present himself as a priest, according to a diocese news release.

That action came after the bishop received a letter on Tuesday complaining that a former priest of the Newark Archdiocese, John Capparelli, had attended the parish’s annual Family Festival on May 12, diocese officials said. Capparelli and Di Lella apparently had been friends for decades after meeting in the 1970s at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Darlington, a defunct institution in Mahwah, church officials said.

The diocese statement noted that Capparelli, who stopped working as a priest more than 20 years ago, had been teaching in the Newark public schools until allegations of abuse surfaced in 2011. One of the allegations was brought by a man who said in a lawsuit that the abuse began at the Mahwah seminary where Capparelli allegedly presided over wrestling matches between teenage boys in the 1970s.

Capparelli, who once worked at Our Lady of Fatima in North Bergen, was defrocked in March, according to James Goodness, a spokes­man for the Newark Archdiocese. The archdiocese had sent a request to Rome last year asking for Capparelli, who remained a priest even though he no longer worked as one, to be defrocked after The Star-Ledger published stories about the allegations against him.

The Paterson Diocese attorney, Kenneth Mullaney, said that a diocese review board met on Thursday and recommended that Di Lella be removed as pastor after reviewing a letter that said he sat with Capparelli and had a conversation with him at a table during the parish festival. The letter indicated that Capparelli attended the festival “with the obvious consent of the pastor,” Mullaney said.

Di Lella, however, told church officials that he did not invite Capparelli to the festival and that the former priest “just showed up” and stayed for about 30 minutes, Mullaney said.

“Monsignor Di Lella should have asked him to leave immediately,” Mullaney said. “It’s just common sense. This should not have happened on a church property at an event where minors are present. It was very poor judgment and unacceptable.”

Di Lella, 64, and Capparelli, 65, he said, have been friends for years and apparently attended seminary together. Di Lella’s biography says he attended Immaculate Conception Seminary in the 1970s.

“If he wants to be friends, fine, but not on church property and not at an event where minors are present,” Mullaney said.

Capparelli had been suspended from the priesthood in 1992 after walking away from his ministry, about the same time he began teaching in Newark, according to Goodness of the Newark Archdiocese. His teaching license was revoked last year in a settlement.

The Paterson Diocese statement said that Di Lella has been suspended “pending a full investigation of the matter.” Mullaney declined to discuss what might happen next. In other cases, priests have challenged bishops’ decisions and demanded church trials. Mullaney said that the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office was notified about the incident as a precaution.

“There were no reports of inappropriate conduct” at the festival, Mullaney said.

Di Lella could not be reached for comment on Friday and did not return messages left at the parish rectory. Mullaney said that Di Lella, who was installed as pastor four years ago, would no longer stay at the rectory after Friday, but would not say where he would live.

Capparelli declined to comment when reached on his cellphone on Friday, saying “you need to talk to my lawyer.” His attorney, Thomas Murphy, did not return messages on Friday afternoon. Capparelli has previously denied the allegations against him.

Mullaney said parishioners would be told about Di Lella’s removal in a letter to be read in the church over the weekend.

Parishioners contacted on Friday said they were shocked by the news, and praised Di Lella as a leader who brought people together after difficult times that included the closing of the parish school.

One parishioner, Beatrice Pucella, said he was a good pastor but did not want to comment further, saying she didn’t know why he was being removed. Other parishioners, several who asked not to be identified, made similar remarks.

One woman, Clare Clark, said Di Lella had been “a calming influence.”

She added, “I’m finding out about this right now and feel very sad.”









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