Former TCNJ chaplain from Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal exposed, victim tells story
By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman
March 17, 2019
|The Rev. Vincent J. Inghilterra|
|The Rev. Vincent J. Inghilterra|
As the Catholic Church grapples with widespread sex abuse scandals, new details have emerged about a child-molesting ex-priest who targeted students at the local campus known today as The College of New Jersey.
The Rev. Vincent J. Inghilterra, better known as Father Vince, has debauched the morals of “multiple victims” and has since been removed from ministry, the Diocese of Trenton confirmed in a public tell-all outing the identities of 30 clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor.
Among his many assignments, Inghilterra in the 1980s served as the campus town chaplain at Trenton State College, a Ewing-based institution later renamed TCNJ. The so-called Father Vince prowled around campus with a seedy reputation that preceded him, according to one of his victims.
Thomas Venditti, 56, a former student at Trenton State, transferred to another school, he said, because he needed to escape from the trauma that Inghilterra put him through.
“I don’t want Catholics to completely give up their faith,” Venditti said, “but I don’t want them to get victimized, either.”
Venditti told The Trentonian about how a spaghetti dinner at Trenton State’s Newman Center circa 1982 devolved into a freaky one-on-one encounter in which Inghilterra tried to seduce him.
“He was the chaplain of the Catholic Newman Center, which was a fellowship for Catholic students on campus. He was employed by the Diocese of Trenton,” Venditti said of Inghilterra. “I was invited to go to their spaghetti dinner. I had never been there before. I was not really attending Mass at the time, honestly. I went there looking for some spiritual guidance, and I was searching for God in my life at that time.”
As an 18-year-old freshman student, Venditti went to the Newman Center that evening because he was raised under Catholicism and a friend had invited him to attend the Wednesday night spaghetti dinner, where about 10 students gathered for spiritual enlightenment, he said.
The students feasted all together at the dinner table, but Inghilterra did not break bread with them. The clergyman, however, had his eyes fixated on Venditti from afar.
“After dinner I was approached by one of the students who said Father Vince, who I never met before, wanted to meet with me in his office,” said Venditti, a western Pennsylvania resident originally from Willingboro. “I went there in his office and sat behind his desk, door shut. He began asking me questions about myself and it eventually led to him going around the desk and embracing me as if he wanted to give me a hug, which I was OK with. Then the hug turned into an aggressive situation; he wanted to make out with me. I pushed him away and left and told my friend, ‘Let’s get away.’ He scared me.”
“I was 18 years old, and I knew what he was doing,” Venditti added. “After he let go of me he rubbed my back. I knew what was going on and I had to break it immediately. I told my friend, ‘Why did you bring me here?’ My friend knew he had a reputation, but he never told me that.”
Venditti blames former Diocese of Trenton bishops for enabling Inghilterra’s serial abuse of Roman Catholic minors but is grateful, he said, for the diocese’s current efforts to provide him and other victims with post-traumatic counseling services.
“I have needed therapy,” he said. “I will say the Diocese of Trenton has helped me with that. The new people there — the people there now — they are trying to help the victims, so there is a very nice lady, Mrs. Maureen Fitzsimmons. She has been very helpful to me, and that needs to continue. The victims need to know they need counseling.”
Inghilterra was born in 1942, joined the Diocese of Trenton as an ordained priest in 1972 and began preying upon victims shortly thereafter while masquerading as a man of God.
“In the ’70s is when he molested a couple boys,” Venditti said of Inghilterra. “They sent him away for a few years. Then they recirculated him. The bishop of the Trenton Diocese should have stopped this way back in the ’70s. This should have never happened. We don’t know how many victims he has.”
TCNJ confirms Venditti was a student at Trenton State from fall semester 1981 through spring semester 1983, but the Diocese of Trenton would not confirm or deny whether the church is providing him with any counseling services as one of Inghilterra’s many victims.
“As a matter of policy we don’t release or confirm the names of victims, though they are certainly free to tell their own story,” diocese spokesperson Rayanne Bennett said via email.
Every Catholic bishop of New Jersey, including the Rev. David M. O’Connell of Trenton’s diocese, issued a joint statement March 4 saying they have “zero tolerance” for any cleric who has abused even one child.
“All of our dioceses are committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” the bishops said in their statement. “Each diocese has a Victim Assistance Coordinator who facilitates the provision of counseling and other professional assistance to help those who have been abused. All victims have the opportunity to meet with the bishop in order to facilitate healing.”
Venditti, now a married father of five, says he relocated out of state to escape from Inghilterra’s orbit but had the unfortunate experience of being reintroduced into the world of Father Vince.
About 25 years after the inappropriate contact, Venditti enrolled one of his children at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and discovered that Inghilterra was on the university’s staff.
“He was working with guys who were 18 and 19 years old like I was. This was after his military stint,” Venditti said of the disgraced clergyman who previously served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. “He shouldn’t have been in Ohio because his diocese was in Trenton. They let this guy do what the hell he wanted to.”
Venditti publicly informed the Steubenville community about Father Vince’s abusive ways, he said, adding his activism caused a great deal of agony for him and his family as Inghilterra enjoyed a wide berth of apologists who defended him at all costs.
The Diocese of Trenton eventually pulled the plug on Inghilterra’s public ministry, “But the damage to me and my family was unbelievable,” Venditti said. “It was horrible what they did. What they did was retaliation. They retaliated against me for exposing Father Vince.”
Being haunted by Inghilterra for years, “I think it’s meant to be; it’s God’s will,” said Venditti, who strongly condemns any priest who engages in sexual abuse and anyone who helped cover it up.
“They are doing it in the name of our Lord and God,” he said of child-molesting priests. “I am just a voice to say these are not true Christians. These are people who are enemies of Christ, so how did they get into the church? I don’t know.”
After wavering with despair, Venditti says his Catholic faith has been greatly strengthened by a move Pope Francis made earlier this year to appoint the Rev. Joseph L. Coffey a bishop.
Coffey first became an ordained priest with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1996 and is a long-serving chaplain in the U.S. Navy with the rank of captain. Venditti says he and Coffey are well-acquainted, saying they both had studied theology together at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
“I know this man personally,” he said of Coffey. “A guy like this is just what the church needs, somebody who could lead with integrity who you don’t have to doubt his history.”
Coffey will serve as auxiliary bishop of the Military Ordinariate for the United States of America following his episcopal ordination March 25 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Venditti sees light at the end of the tunnel, viewing Bishop-elect Coffey as the right clergyman with the chops to tackle the church’s widespread child sex abuse crisis.
“He’s got to clean house,” he said of Coffey. “When you understand the devastation we felt from this betrayal, this good news is really our last hope. If Joe Coffey can’t straighten this ship out, no human being can.”