Cleared of abuse allegations, Waterbury priest focuses on healing process
By Paul Singley
December 28, 2015
|The Rev. Jeremiah Murasso performs a baptism at Blessed Sacrament Church in Waterbury on Sunday. Murasso was recently reinstated after being found not guilty following a sexual misconduct investigation.|
Photo by Christopher Massa
WATERBURY The Rev. Jeremiah Murasso of Blessed Sacrament Church and the Shrine of St. Anne has recently endured the most trying time of his life.
This spring, Murasso's sterling reputation within the Roman Catholic church, where he has served as an ordained priest for more than 37 years, was nearly sullied by what church investigators now say are baseless accusations that he sexually abused a minor more than 20 years ago.
For the past six months, Murasso has spent his days in relative exile, at a secluded house far away from hundreds of his parishioners and friends who prayed for him, wrote letters to the archdiocese and refused to believe he was capable of committing such a horrendous crime.
Last week, their prayers were answered, and Murasso's good name was officially restored — after an extensive investigation, the Archdiocese of Hartford concluded the allegations could not be substantiated. Murasso, 63, who had been on administrative leave since June, was told he could once again lead the two parishes on the city's west side.
"This is a victory," he said. "Not so much for me, but for the parishes and for all of the parishes I have served at."
"...In the past six months, I was angry ... I was," he said. "I was very disappointed that something so bizarre and so bogus — with no basis in reality — could affect the lives of so many people, including mine. But I have to say this: I slept on the softest pillow that anybody could possibly sleep on, and that was the pillow of a clear conscience. ... I know who I am and what I'm about. When you have a clear conscience and faith in God, you can get through anything."
On Christmas Eve, Murasso led his first service since June. Some parishioners believe it was a gift from God, a miracle on the eve of Jesus's birthday.
Others, however, simply see it as the righting of a wrong.
Blessed Sacrament parishioner Kimberly Petrillo, who said she has known Murasso for more than 25 years, said she never, "not for a second," believed the claims.
"He is one of the most solid people and priests I have encountered, and I've been a Catholic, a devout Catholic, my whole life," she said.
Fellow parishioner Stephen Macchio of Naugatuck said he has been following Murasso since his time at St. Vincent Church in Naugatuck in the 1990s. Macchio and his family believe Murasso has a deep-rooted faith in God that is evident in his sermons.
He, too, refused to believe the accusations.
"I think it's because nothing was really substantiated," he said.
Murasso had been pastor at the two Waterbury churches since March 2012. He has served 10 different assignments with the archdiocese, including as director of the now-defunct St. Francis Home for Children in New Haven in the 1990s.
He states in his online biography that he worked to create a home out of the institution, which was for sexually abused and emotionally disturbed children between the ages of 5 and 18. He states that "spiritual values became the focus for therapeutic intervention and the healing of the whole child."
Murasso would not name the accuser during an interview with a reporter. The archdiocese has not identified the accuser, and the Republican-American could not verify his identity.
"I do know him; he wasn't very long as a resident" at St. Francis Home for Children, Murasso said. "All the kids who went through there were good kids, they really were. They were kids who had troubles, and what kid doesn't have troubles nowadays?"
Murasso said he has no regrets about his time at the orphanage, which was also known as Highland Heights.
"I forgive him," he said of his accuser. "I don't know why he did it. I had a wonderful relationship with all of the children there. In many ways, we were the only stabilizing forces in their lives."
If he could see the accuser now, Murasso said he would ask "what motivated him to make an accusation that he knows in his heart is unfounded."
The priest knows he may never get an answer, so he remains focused on what he can control: helping the two churches heal.
Such healing will happen organically — day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. But Murasso will also hold a special "healing mass" in January at which he plans to address the issue head on. He hopes that will bring comfort to parishioners.
"The support I have received is very humbling," he said. "It's a testament on the part of the people, and I think it reinforces in their own minds the power of prayer and the power of faith ... People have stormed heaven with prayers and written hundreds of letters in my support, and it's edifying to see that their efforts have paid off.
"My biggest joy," he said, "is that people actually thought they had a part in bringing me back here. And they did; they played a part, for sure."