The Rev. Joseph Grasso, former Siena Academy principal, accused of molesting student

By Sean Lahman And Steve Orr
Democrat and Chronicle
February 28, 2020

Rochester diocese says no complaints about Grasso were ever received

Grasso taught in the late 1990's at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit

He assumed the principal position at Siena at the start of 1998-99 school year

A priest who served as principal at three area Catholic schools and taught at a fourth has been accused of sexually abusing a student in the early 2000s.

A lawsuit initiated late last week alleges that the Rev. Joseph A. Grasso abused the student at Siena Catholic Academy in Brighton and the adjacent St. Thomas More Church.

The male victim, who was not identified by name in court papers, was approximately 12 years old when the alleged abuse began in 2002. Legal papers say the abuse continued into the following year.

No other information about the alleged abusive acts was included in the lawsuit, which was amended Tuesday to correct an error in some of the dates that are cited.

Grasso, 64, told a reporter Friday he was not aware of the litigation or any allegations of abuse.

"I don’t know what this is all about," said Grasso, who has been chaplain at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany since 2008.

Grasso later engaged a lawyer in Rochester, Michael Wolford, who said this week that his client denies he abused anyone.

"Father Joseph Grasso has had a stellar reputation in this community and other communities where he has worked and we are very disappointed that this unmeritorious lawsuit has been filed by these Buffalo attorneys," Wolford said. "We intend to vigorously defend Father Grasso and ultimately I am confident he will be vindicated."

A member of the Congregation of Missionaries of the Precious Blood religious order, Grasso was ordained as a priest in 1992.

Grasso taught in the late 1990's at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit before assuming the principal's job at Siena at the start of the 1998-99 school year.

He was at Siena for six years before leaving to be principal at Aquinas Institute and then at DeSales High School in Geneva, though his short tenure at each school raised questions at the time about the reasons for his departure.

He spent less than a year at Aquinas, departing midway through the 2004-05 school session. In a statement at the time, the school said Grasso resigned "to pursue other interests" and Grasso himself told a reporter he left due to "reassignment — we’ll leave it at that."

Three months after he left Aquinas, Grasso was introduced as principal at DeSales High School in Geneva, which was operated then by the Rochester diocese but has since closed due to declining enrollment.

Grasso would spend just two years there, departing in July 2007 in what appeared to be an unplanned move. He left to "pursue other work in his ministry for the Precious Blood order of priests," according to a statement that summer from the diocese.

Red flags?

In a brief interview by phone Friday, Grasso acknowledged that his abrupt departures from the two schools were red flags in the context of the Catholic Church's child sexual abuse scandal, where there is a long history of church leaders shuffling around priests who fall under suspicion.

But Grasso said allegations of abuse had nothing to do with either departure. He said he left Aquinas because he and the school's board president "didn't see eye-to-eye," and he left DeSales because of a "difference of opinion" between himself and diocesan officials about the school's operation.

A spokesman for the Rochester diocese, Douglas Mandelaro, said that "no complaint of sexual abuse of a minor was ever received by the diocese" against Grasso.

And Aquinas spokesman Joseph B. Knapp said this week that officials at that school had never been made aware of such allegations against Grasso until a reporter called this week about the lawsuit.

David Carapella, Siena's current principal, said Wednesday that he was not at the school at that time and offered no other comment on the case.

The lawsuit seeks damages only from Grasso, not the school or the diocese.

That is likely due to the fact that the Rochester diocese has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and civil suits against it for past abuse are legally barred. The plaintiff would be free to file a claim against the diocese or its school in the bankruptcy proceeding.

As of earlier this week, Grasso remained in good standing with the Precious Blood province in Toronto, Canada, of which he is a member.

"Joe has always been well-received wherever he was. When he left the schools, it was because of, how should I put it, ideological differences between him and staff or administration." said the Very Rev. Mario Cafarelli, the order's provincial director in Toronto. "I’m surprised. He has always been very careful. Knowing him, he would die before doing any of that."


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