Shock, surprise over Greenwich priest’s suspension over child abuse allegations
Shock and surprise were the responses to the announcement that a priest with longtime roots in the community had been suspended over an alleged incident of sexual misconduct with a youngster that recently came to light.
The Rev. Stephen DeLuca was removed from clerical duties this week by the Bridgeport Diocese, which includes Greenwich. He had been serving as priest in residence at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Riverside. At that church, he filled in for other priests when they were travelling or otherwise unable to conduct services, and he took on occasional clerical duties following his recent retirement at the age of 75. He was also the former pastor of St.Agnes Church on Stanwich Road from 1984 to 2006.
Roseann Benedict, who attends services at St. Catherine’s, said of the recent disclosure, “It’s shocking to me.”
She recalled DeLuca as a teacher at St. Mary’s High School.
“Everyone loved him,” she said. She said he was a well-regarded educator at the school, which is no longer in existence, and that news of his suspension was hard to process.
“I’m sort of in denial,” Benedict said.
Parishioner Fadi Olaimi, on his way to an afternoon Mass at St. Catherine’s, said, “It was very surprising. He seemed like a normal priest. Nothing strange.”
The diocese released little information about the case. The misconduct recently was reported to clerical authorities and was described as “an incident of child abuse.” The statement said that it took place more than 30 years ago.
Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace said he met with parish leaders at St. Agnes and St. Catherine over the weekend.
“There’s a sense of loss, trying to process that information,” Wallace said. “Then there’s concern for the victim, and all victims. It’s a traumatic experience. There’s loss, confusion, even disbelief, and a real concern for the victim.
“We try to address a difficult issue in the most compassionate way,” he said.
The diocese spokesman said no one else has come forward since news of the priest’s suspension was publicly announced Wednesday.
Wallace said state authorities had immediately been notified when the complaint was lodged, and the diocese went through its own internal process. A review board, composed of professionals in mental health, law, law enforcement and administration looked at the information and found it “credible.” That determination went back to the bishop, who then ordered the suspension.
“The last thing any bishop wants to do is suspend a priest. But there’s a zero-tolerance policy,” the diocesan spokesman said.
DeLuca was also active with Greenwich Hospital, a position he left last June. The hospital administration said he was not an employee of the hospital, but was assigned there by the diocese.
According to hospital spokesman Dana Marnane, “There have been no reported concerns or issues at Greenwich Hospital, but we are aware of the situation and will assist if requested.”
DeLuca also was affiliated with the Greenwich Catholic School, serving on its board of directors.
Bishop Frank Caggiano spelled out his dismay about the situation with DeLuca in a letter released this week: “I realize that this is distressing news for you and it further wounds the diocese and our Church as a family of faith. I can only reassure you that we remain committed to a zero-tolerance policy for child abuse and total transparency in the handling of cases.”
The diocese also noted that anyone who wants to report suspected abuse involving a minor, recently or in the past, can contact: Erin Neil, diocesan director of Safe Environments at 203-650-3265; or Michael Tintrup, victim assistance counselor, 203-241-0987.
Messages left for the pastor at St. Agnes were not returned Thursday. A call to the principal’s office at the Greenwich Catholic School was not returned.