Priest Accused of Sexually Assaulting Parishioner Denies Claims but Admits to Having Affair
By Matt Gray
NJ Advance Media
January 5, 2021
|Fr. Robert Sinatra says Mass during the 2019 St. Padre Pio Festival at St. Padre Pio Parish in Vineland. (Joe Warner | For NJ Advance Media)Joe Warner | For NJ Advance Medi|
A New Jersey priest has acknowledged he had an affair with a woman who recently filed a lawsuit alleging he sexually assaulted her.
The Rev. Robert L. Sinatra, of St. Padre Pio Parish in Vineland, admitted the affair in a Jan. 2 letter to parishioners, but denied that he assaulted the woman.
“With a deep sense of embarrassment and shame, I write to let you know that in late 2018 I had a two-month affair with an unmarried woman,” Sinatra wrote.
The letter and the woman’s lawsuit do not identify her by name. The suit describes her as a parishioner who participated in church activities.
Sinatra remains at his post with the parish and the Camden Diocese has no plans to remove him at this time, a spokesman said.
Sinatra met with Bishop Dennis Sullivan, head of the Camden Diocese, to report the transgression and ended the affair, according to the letter, which notes that the woman also met with Sullivan in July 2019.
Sullivan allowed Sinatra to continue serving as a priest while he “agreed to seek spiritual direction and counseling to prevent any future lapses.”
Sinatra, who was named pastor of the St. Padre Pio Parish in 2015, said he paid for a year of counseling to help the woman deal with the situation and Sullivan agreed that the diocese would pay for additional counseling.
“Although ending this relationship was difficult for me, it was obviously very difficult for her as well,” Sinatra wrote.
Though Sinatra said he blocked the woman’s phone number and severed any known social media connections with her, “she still found occasions to be in my presence,” he wrote.
She filed the civil suit in state Superior Court on Dec. 18.
It names the parish as defendant and accuses supervisors of failing to recognize that Sinatra posed a danger to others.
“Fr. Sinatra exploited his position of authority over Plaintiff as a priest, counselor and spiritual director,” the suit states. “Defendant and the Diocese knew or should have known that Fr. Sinatra was a danger to parishioners before Fr. Sinatra sexually assaulted Plaintiff.”
The suit accuses the parish of negligence in training, supervision and retention of Sinatra.
The pastor denied he ever assaulted anyone.
“In this demand for payment, she claims that I sexually assaulted her and sexually abused her,” Sinatra told his parishioners in the letter. “I want to let you know that — as shameful and embarrassing as my transgressions were — I have never sexually abused or assaulted her, or anyone else.”
While he said the relationship was consensual, Sinatra acknowledged that he breached his promise of celibacy and sought forgiveness from his flock.
In response to a request for comment, the priest said he had nothing to add beyond what he wrote in his letter and referred questions to the diocese.
A spokesman for the diocese, who confirmed that Sullivan met twice with Sinatra to discuss the matter and also met with the woman, said Tuesday that Sinatra remains at his post with the parish.
“As a result of his meetings with Father Sinatra and the woman; Fr. Sinatra’s agreement to seek counseling and spiritual direction; and his promise and conviction to remain committed to his priestly vows and his parish, Bishop Sullivan allowed him to remain as pastor of Padre Pio Parish in Vineland,” Michael J. Walsh wrote in statement. “The Diocese is reviewing the lawsuit, but at this time has no plans to remove Fr. Sinatra as pastor, as he refutes the accusation and there has never been any indication or report in his past of any abusive relationships in any element of his personal or public life.”