Former Pearl River Priest Removed from Ministry
By Colleen Wilson
September 26, 2016
“This claim is another example of why the statute of limitations has to be amended so that victims of sexual abuse can try to heal,” said Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer for the accuser.
|Monsignor John O'Keefe in a file photo from May 12, 2000.|
A former Pearl River priest and Westchester Catholic school leader accused of sexual abuse has been permanently removed from his ministry by the Archdiocese of New York, according to a lawyer for his alleged victim.
Monsignor John O’Keefe, who served for more than a decade as president at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, had been suspended last year from St. Margaret of Antioch Parish in Pearl River after he was accused of sexually abusing a minor on two occasions — in New York and Virginia — more than three decades ago.
The announcement of O'Keefe's status was made Sunday afternoon by New Jersey-based nonprofit Road to Recovery Inc., which helps victims of sexual abuse. It issued a joint press release with Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the accuser, who said he had been informed of the action by a church official.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said the archdiocese would not make public statements on the case until the process is completed, which includes bringing the matter to the Holy See, the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Vatican City.
But a church official confirmed to The Journal News that O'Keefe will never be permitted to function again as a priest.
The archdiocese continues to be responsible for providing O'Keefe with a place to live. Zwilling said he could not comment on where O'Keefe has been living since his suspension.
O'Keefe has not been charged with any crimes; authorities said both incidents are beyond the statute of limitations.
Garabedian said his client was abused by O’Keefe between 1981 and 1983 while a student at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, where O’Keefe was a teacher and guidance counselor. The alleged abuse happened in a Virginia hotel room during a school trip to Washington, D.C., and at the Irish Christian Brothers’ retreat house in Esopus, New York, during a weekend leadership training program.
O'Keefe's suspension was announced in a Dec. 16, 2015, letter to parishioners from New York's archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who called the allegation "credible." O'Keefe, who was on leave at the time for medical issues, denied the allegations.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said in 2015 that there had been no allegations of misconduct made against O'Keefe in Rockland County. Zugibe's office, the Westchester County District Attorney's Office and the Bronx County District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether any further allegations against O'Keefe had surfaced since then.
Frank Pagani, a spokesman for Archbishop Stepinac High School, said the school posted a letter to its website after the suspension urging anyone with concerns or suspicions to come forward, but said there had been no reports so far.
Garabedian, whose firm is in Boston, has represented hundreds of victims of sexual assault before and after The Boston Globe ran a series of stories in 2002 exposing widespread allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The Globe's reporting was the focus of a 2015 Oscar-winning movie, "Spotlight."
“I’ve requested the archdiocese compensate my client financially so his claim can be validated and he can try to move on and he can try to heal,” said Garabedian.
“This claim is another example of why the statute of limitations has to be amended so that victims of sexual abuse can try to heal,” he added.
O’Keefe was named the first president of Archbishop Stepinac High School in 1992 and served as the school's leader for 11 years. He was reassigned to St. Margaret’s in 2003.