WINDSOR TERRACE — Father John O’Connor, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bellerose and director of the Brooklyn Diocese’s liturgy office, was removed from his post by Bishop Robert Brennan after the committee Diocesan Review Board (DRB) has found evidence of sexual misconduct, officials said Monday.
The DRB were independently investigating allegations in a lawsuit under the Child Victims Act (CVA) filed in August 2020 when they uncovered new evidence relating to an allegation of inappropriate internet contact with minors brought against Father O’Connor in March 2000. At that time he was serving as a priest at St. Athanasius in Bensonhurst.
Following new evidence uncovered regarding the claim in 2000, the DRB – which is made up of lay people with expertise in family law, law enforcement and mental health issues – recommended to Bishop Brennan that Father O’Connor be permanently removed from the ministry. This means that he is forbidden to celebrate Mass publicly, to exercise public ministerial functions and to live in an ecclesiastical residence. Additionally, his name will be added to a list on the diocesan website of priests who have been credibly accused of wrongdoing.
Father O’Connor, who was ordained in 1993, has served in the following parishes over the years: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Saint Athanasius, Saint Clare, Incarnation and Saint Gregory the Great. He was appointed Director of the Office of Liturgy in 2014.
Diocesan officials, including Msgr. Sean Ogle, Vicar for Clergy and Consecrated Life, visited St. Gregory the Great on Sunday to inform parishioners of Father O’Connor’s retirement.
“The general feeling was one of great sadness,” said Msgr. said Ogle. “Several parishioners said the only thing we can do is pray for everyone involved.”
In a letter to parishioners, Bishop Brennan announced that Msgr. Edward Ryan, who Fr. O’Connor succeeded as pastor at St. Gregory in 2020, will serve as the parish’s temporary administrator after Fr. O’Connor steps down.
“I am aware that this news is disturbing and even devastating to many,” Bishop Brennan said. “I encourage all of us to remain vigilant in our commitment to protect our children and young people.”
In March 2000, when the allegations against Father O’Connor first came to light, the diocese placed him on leave so he could seek treatment. He remained on leave and received treatment from May 2000 to August 2001. Father O’Connor was allowed to return to the ministry and continued to receive treatment until 2005.
After the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Child Protection Charter in 2002, the Brooklyn Diocese instituted a zero-tolerance policy that mandates the permanent removal of any clergy who is determined to be credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. .
“Before the establishment of the charter…we didn’t have a diocesan review committee, so we didn’t have full investigations for situations like this,” said Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn. “Now we have a better understanding of all the different ways sexual misconduct can happen, we have former law enforcement officers leading our investigations and an independent review board, so everything type of complaint like this would be investigated.”
The diocese conducts ongoing background checks on all of its employees and volunteers and provides age-appropriate sexual abuse awareness training for children and adults.
The Ministry’s Office of Victims Assistance provides support services to victims, including counseling and referrals for therapy. The diocese also holds an annual mass of hope and healing for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The diocese also operates a toll-free reporting line for accusers to report allegations. The number is 1-888-634-4499.
All reports that come into the line are forwarded to law enforcement authorities.
The allegations from the August 2020 lawsuit against Father O’Connor are still under investigation.
“The CVA lawsuits are prompting numerous investigations,” Rodriguez added, “and if more situations like this are uncovered, they will be dealt with like this.”