Queens Priest Faces Charges
Alleged Sex Abuse Occurred in '70s

By Melanie Lefkowitz
Newsday [New York]
April 2, 2002

A Queens priest who once sparked a national furor by telling a children's class that Santa Claus was dead was arrested yesterday on charges he raped and sexually abused a Massachusetts boy in the 1970s, authorities said.

The Rev. Romano Ferraro, 67, who is on leave from Parsons Manor, a monastery in Jamaica, was indicted last week by a grand jury in Middlesex County, Mass. New York City police officers arrested him at 2:30 p.m. yesterday at his home on 153rd Street. He faces an extradition hearing in Queens today.

Ferraro's arrest comes as the Catholic Church faces a flood of criticism over its handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Protesters have called for the resignation of church leaders, including Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, who is accused of covering up allegations of sexual assaults by priests.

Ferraro's arrest also comes as a former New York priest resigned as an instructor at a Boynton Beach, Fla., seminary. Msgr. William White admitted that he fondled and made sexual advances to one of his former students from Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. The incidents occurred in White's residence at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx in the 1970s.

Law enforcement officials said Ferraro raped and sexually abused the boy from the time he was 7 until he was 13. The incidents occurred during Ferraro's occasional visits to a friend's home in Billerica, Mass., from 1973 to 1980, said Emily LaGrassa of the Middlesex County district attorney's office. Ferraro was a friend of the boy's family, officials said.

Ferraro, who was never assigned to a Massachusetts parish, would visit Billerica once or twice a year, LaGrassa said. He was charged with rape of a child and three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child.

The alleged victim reported the abuse to prosecutors in September, LaGrassa said, before the Archdiocese of Boston began disclosing the names of accused priests. The charges are not subject to a statute of limitations because Massachusetts state law freezes the statute if the defendant is out of the region for an "extended period of time," LaGrassa said.

Once Ferraro is extradited, he will be arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge, officials said.

Ferraro, who was ordained a priest on May 28, 1960, was "suspended from priestly activity" by the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1988 after a similar allegation was made, said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese.

"Once the allegation was made, he was suspended and then went away for psychological evaluation and counseling. He has not been functioning as a priest since then, DeRosa said.

DeRosa said Ferraro had been with the Brooklyn diocese since he was ordained. The last time Ferraro served in a parish was in the early 1970s when he was in Rockaway Beach, he said. Although he was assigned to the Brooklyn Diocese, he spent some time in New Jersey. Ferraro made headlines around the country in December 1986, when he told a group of children at a Feast of St. Nicholas celebration at a Woodbridge, N.J., church that both St. Nicholas and Santa Claus were dead. He took a leave of absence soon after the incident and was later reassigned.


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