Priest Cleared in Abuse Case

By Jeffrey Blackwell
Democrat and Chronicle
January 8, 2004 news.shtml

The Rev. John Costello, a longtime faculty member at McQuaid Jesuit High School, is back in the classroom after being cleared of allegations that he and another priest sexually abused a student at a New York City school 24 years ago.

Costello returned to the classroom Wednesday after the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, found that charges against him were false.

"He (the former student) recanted," said the Rev. Richard Galligan, the acting provincial of the New York Province.

The former student had told investigators that Costello and another priest had abused the student in 1980 while he was at Regis High School, a Catholic boys school in Manhattan. He was 15 years old at the time. Costello has been cleared from the case. The allegations against the other priest are still under investigation. His name was not released.

"I'm greatly relieved that my name and reputation have been cleared," Costello said in a written statement. "It was an extremely stressful and difficult time for me. I thank God, and all who worked on my behalf to clear my name. And, I am grateful for all the support and prayers I received during these months."

The priest was met by applause in at least one of his classes Wednesday. A freshman religion student, Matt Glende of Rochester, said that Costello seemed happy with his reception.

"We really want him as our teacher," Glende said.

"I'm glad he's back. He's a great teacher," said junior Alex Fassanella of Rochester. Fassanella was in one of Costello's classes last year and made a point of greeting his former teacher in the hallway Wednesday. "He seems good, considering."

Costello maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. He is a religion and English teacher and chairman of the school's religion department. Costello has taught at the school for nearly nine years on and off over the past 18 years.

He was suspended for six weeks during the investigation and could not have any contact with students or perform priestly duties.

Costello had to live with friends because he could not stay at the school. He was one of 12 Jesuits living at McQuaid. The Rev. Philip Judge, McQuaid's principal, said this was a difficult time for Costello and for the school, but he knew his friend for more than 20 years would be cleared of the allegations.

"Father Costello denied that anything happened from the beginning and it comes as no surprise that he has been exonerated or that the victim might have recanted," Judge said. "I think he is very relieved to have what has been a terrible ordeal over."

Wednesday morning, there was a full school assembly in the gymnasium to welcome Costello back to work. He received a 5-minute standing ovation from students and faculty, Judge said. McQuaid President James E. Whelehan said letters were sent out to parents and there were meetings with faculty Wednesday morning. "We are delighted that he is back," he said.

Costello also has taught at Bishop Kearney High School, and is still that school's sacramental minister.

"He is dedicated, spirit-filled and an excellent role model," said Kearney Principal Louis D'Angelo. "We have maintained absolute faith in Father Costello during this difficult time."

Glende said the priest allowed students to ask questions about the ordeal.

Allegations about sexual abuse at the hands of priests have thrown the Catholic Church into turmoil in recent years. Since April 2002, seven priests in the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese have been suspended or removed from office because of child sexual abuse.


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