Pearl River Pastor Abuse Allegation Credible, Not Yet Substantiated

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An allegation of abuse of a minor on two occasions more than 30 years ago by Msgr. John J. O’Keefe, pastor of St. Margaret of Antioch Parish in Pearl River, has been deemed credible but not yet substantiated, according to the archdiocese.

The pastor is not permitted to publicly function as a priest until the matter is resolved, Cardinal Dolan said in a Dec. 16 letter to parishioners of St. Margaret’s.

The cardinal’s letter also stated that Msgr. O’Keefe is in a supervised setting as he undergoes a thorough evaluation and risk assessment. He had been on leave from the parish since Sept. 1, receiving treatment for unrelated personal health issues. (Father Eric Raaser has been serving as the parish’s temporary administrator.)

Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro, episcopal vicar of Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Rockland Counties, spoke at weekend Masses at St. Margaret of Antioch on Dec. 19-20. Also representing the archdiocese at the church were Msgr. Edward Weber, director of the Priest Personnel Office, and Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the archdiocese.

When the archdiocese received the allegation, it was immediately turned over to the Bronx and Rockland district attorneys’ offices and then forwarded to the district attorney in Virginia, where one of the acts of abuse allegedly occurred.

“According to the policy worked out with the district attorneys in New York, the archdiocese has to keep these allegations confidential until law enforcement officials conclude their investigation,” the cardinal said in his letter. “Their investigation is now complete. We have been advised that the allegation is credible.”

Msgr. O’Keefe is not permitted to publicly function as a priest until the matter is resolved in keeping with the policy and practice of the archdiocese, and in conformity with promises the bishops made in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the cardinal continued.

“The archdiocese will follow its policy for dealing with priests who have been accused of abuse, including having the entire matter reviewed by professionals and our lay advisory board,” he said.

The cardinal, in his letter, said anyone with concerns or suspicions about Msgr. O’Keefe in that regard is urged to contact Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Parietti in the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office at (845) 638-5001 or their local district attorney.

Before becoming pastor of St. Margaret of Antioch in 2003, Msgr. O’Keefe served as president of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains since 1992, after having served as a faculty member for one year.

In concluding his letter, the cardinal asked the parishioners to “keep in your prayers Monsignor O’Keefe, the individual who brought this accusation forward, and all those affected, in particular all victim/survivors of sexual abuse.”

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