Colleague: Warning Ignored

By Stephanie Saul
Newsday [New York]
April 9, 2002

Bishop Thomas Daily repeatedly ignored warnings about a priest's late-night parties with teenage boys in a Queens rectory, years before the priest was arrested on sodomy charges, according to the fellow priest who complained.

The colleague, the Rev. John McVernon, said recently that he told Daily of his misgivings about the priest in four separate meetings but nothing was done.

"I told Daily, 'There are things that are going on in the rectory that give me pause.' He listened attentively," McVernon recalled. "Nothing changed after that first visit."

McVernon's comments came as Daily continued to face pressure over his reticence to take action against priests accused of sexual misconduct with youths.

It also came as the Diocese of Brooklyn said that in an unrelated case, the Rev. James Smith of St. Kevin's Catholic Church in Flushing had been removed as pastor because of allegations of "inappropriate sexual contact" with minors more than 20 years ago.

Daily has been criticized for a lax response to allegations of sexual abuse in the Brooklyn diocese and in his former assignment in Boston.

The newest charges emerged last week, when McVernon told Newsday he warned Daily years ago that the Rev. Frank Capellupo held parties for teenage boys in the rectory at Most Precious Blood parish in Long Island City, where both McVernon and Capellupo lived in the early 1990s.

McVernon, who emphasized that he had no evidence that Capellupo molested or sexually assaulted any of the boys, said despite his complaints, Daily failed to move aggressively against Capellupo. "Little was changed," McVernon said.

McVernon's statements were bolstered by another priest, who does not want to be identified, who said he, too, complained to the diocese about Capellupo in the late 1980s, before Daily assumed control.

"I said I had serious concerns that Capellupo was having children stay in his room overnight," the second priest said.

Despite the complaints, Capellupo continued to work with children for many years, running a religious education program, a youth ministry and a parish school at Most Precious Blood, according to the priests.

He was transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes in Bushwick in 1997. Three years later, his career was abruptly halted when he was arrested in a highly-publicized incident for allegedly sodomizing a 14-year-old boy in Bushwick. According to published reports at the time, the teenager had sought refuge in the rectory to escape troubles at home.

Following Capellupo's June 2000 arrest, though, the charges were quietly dropped and the case file is sealed, according to a spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney's office, who would release no additional information about the case.

"When I saw Father on television riding away in a radio car that morning, that just didn't have to be," said McVernon, a nationally-known speaker on drug-abuse problems who has married and no longer administers sacraments. "I don't think the bad guy is Capellupo ... He didn't have a bishop with a strong enough mind to say, 'Cut it out or we'll cut you out.'"

Claims that the diocese brushed aside allegations of Capellupo's inappropriate conduct are similar to other complaints that the diocese didn't respond quickly or decisively to allegations of possible abuse. A New Jersey priest and his brother have said the diocese failed to act after they reported having been molested as youths by a priest, currently pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn.

The Rev. Timothy Lambert said he complained in a 1998 meeting with diocesan officials that the Rev. Joseph P. Byrns abused him and his brother repeatedly in the 1970s, when he was growing up in St. Anastasia parish in Douglaston. Lambert said the diocese failed to investigate, and, instead, left Byrns in his job at St. Rose of Lima. Byrns has denied the allegations in the strongest terms. Daily has said the case was investigated with "the utmost care."

Daily also was criticized for mishandling sexual-abuse claims while bishop in the Boston archdiocese, where he admits he made "mistakes." He is under pressure to hand over to criminal authorities a list of priests who've been the target of sexual-abuse complaints.

Daily has refused to do so, even as church leaders throughout the region, including Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York, have complied with requests from prosecutors.

A spokesman for the diocese, Frank DeRosa, said yesterday that Capellupo was placed on administrative leave after his arrest and remains so today. He is not permitted to say Mass publicly or carry out other pastoral duties, DeRosa said.

DeRosa, however, said he could not respond to charges that Daily ignored complaints about Capellupo. The bishop, DeRosa said, was attending a relative's funeral in New England and could not be reached.

Capellupo now resides in a home he owns in Glendale. He did not respond to repeated messages left there requesting an interview.

Capellupo speaks Spanish and is known for his work among Latino parishioners, particularly youths. In the early 1980s, he founded a group home for troubled teens in Bushwick. He was later assigned to several parishes, including Fourteen Holy Martrys and St. Leonard's in Bushwick, St. Michael's in Sunset Park and Most Precious Blood in Long Island City. It was there that McVernon, who resided in the rectory while working on special drug-abuse projects, met Capellupo.

"He's a smart man, a hard-working man," McVernon said. "He's very successful helping Latino kids get an education, get jobs. But, like most of us, he's not perfect. Instead, McVernon said, "There was very much about his behavior in the parish I didn't like."

McVernon said Capellupo hosted late-night dinners of steaks and chops for young male parishioners, paid for by the parish, and that vulgar and angry language emanated from his room.

"Have you ever read 'Pinocchio'? It was like Donkey Island. That's all I can say. It was weird. Why was the weirdness allowed to go on?" McVernon asked.

As a priest on special assignment, McVernon was required to meet annually with Daily.

His concerns about Capellupo were high on his list of topics during those meetings, he said. Already, he said, he had complained to two vicars about Capellupo's conduct, with no result.

During McVernon's first meeting with Daily in the early 1990s, McVernon first raised the topic of Capellupo's conduct. In subsequent years, Daily asked McVernon what was going on in the parish.

"Every year, I would tell him the same story," said McVernon, who said that while Daily indicated his displeasure with the situation, "Nothing happened."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.