By Jessica Easthope and Paula Katinas
WINDSOR TERRACE — Father John O’Connor, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bellerose and director of the Liturgy Office for the Diocese of Brooklyn, has been removed from ministry by Bishop Robert Brennan after the Diocesan Review Board (DRB) found evidence of sexual misconduct, officials announced Monday.
The DRB was independently investigating claims contained in a Child Victims Act (CVA) lawsuit filed in August 2020 when they uncovered new evidence relating to an accusation of inappropriate internet contact with minors leveled against him in March 2000. At that time, he was serving as a priest at St. Athanasius in Bensonhurst.
As a result of the new evidence discovered regarding the claim in 2000, the DRB — which is made up of laypeople with expertise in family law, law enforcement, and mental health issues — recommended to Bishop Brennan that Father O’Connor be permanently removed from ministry. That means he is prohibited from celebrating Mass publicly, performing public ministerial duties, and living in an ecclesiastical residence. In addition, his name will be added to a list on the diocese’s website of priests who have been credibly accused of wrongdoing.
Father John O’Connor, who was ordained in 1993, served at the following parishes over the years: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Athanasius, St. Clare’s, Incarnation, and St. Gregory the Great. He was named director of the Liturgy Office in 2014.
Officials from the diocese, including Msgr. Sean Ogle, vicar for clergy and consecrated life, visited St. Gregory the Great on Sunday to inform parishioners of his removal.
“The overall sentiment was one of great sadness,” Msgr. Ogle said. “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 Father John O’Connor succeeded as pastor at St. Gregory in 2020, will serve as the temporary administrator of the parish after the removal of Father O’Connor.
“I am aware this news is disturbing and even devastating to many,” Bishop Brennan said. “I encourage us all to stay vigilant in our commitment to protecting our children and youth.”
In March 2000, when the allegations against Father John O’Connor first came to light, the diocese placed him on leave so that he could seek treatment. He remained on leave and received treatment from May 2000 to August 2001. He was allowed to return to ministry and continued to receive treatment through 2005.
After the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children in 2002, the Diocese of Brooklyn instituted a zero-tolerance policy that mandates the permanent removal of any clergy member who is determined to be credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.
“Before the establishment of the charter … we did not have a Diocesan Review Board so we did not have full investigations for situations like this one,” said Diocese of Brooklyn Press Secretary Adriana Rodriguez. “Now, we have a clearer understanding of all the various ways sexual misconduct can occur, we have former law enforcement officers doing our investigations, and an independent review board, so any kind of complaint like this would be investigated.”
The diocese conducts ongoing background checks of all its employees and volunteers and provides age-appropriate sexual abuse awareness training for children and adults.
The Office of Victim Assistance Ministry provides supportive 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 claims from the August 2020 CVA lawsuit against Father John O’Connor are still under investigation. The CVA, which was enacted in 2019 and expired in 2021, temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for alleged victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits in New York.
“The CVA lawsuits are sparking many investigations,” Rodriguez added, “and if other situations like this are found, they will be handled just like this one.”