Two Accused Priests Enter Trinity House Retreat

Larchmont Is Temporary Placement

by Judy Silberstein

(August 31, 2006) New York Archdiocese priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children, but not legally convicted, are being offered the option of life-long close supervision that begins with a stay at Larchmont’s Trinity House Retreat. According to Joseph Zwilling, spokesperson for the archdiocese, since a new program’s inception in June, seven priests received options. Five resigned from the priesthood; one arrived at Trinity House a few days ago, and another is on his way.

Attention was drawn to the program this week after some media outlets received copies of a June letter to the priests from Cardinal Edward M. Egan and began publishing reports. (See: The New York Times: A Choice for New York Priests in Abuse Cases.) The Larchmont Gazette began receiving inquiries and comments early Thursday morning, though most local officials and neighbors of the Trinity House declined to comment. (See Appalled at Alleged Sex Abusers Being Sent to Trinity Retreat.)

The program calls for either leaving the priesthood or leading a “life of prayer and penance because of inappropriate behavior in the past,” said Mr. Zwilling, when contacted for explanation. Participants are generally of “advanced age or infirmity” and their cases have been reported to the local district attorneys where the abuse allegedly occurred and reviewed by the archdiocese and by Rome. While residing at Trinity House, the two priests will be under “close supervision” as they undergo psychological evaluation at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison that will determine their next placement and further treatment, said Mr. Zwilling.

Technically, Trinity House Retreat is in New Rochelle, though its postal address is Larchmont, 10538. It sits only a few feet back from Pryor Manor Road, adjacent to the (white-painted) “ Red Bridge” and wedged between the Premium Mill Pond and Long Island Sound in an upscale residential area. Retreat patrons are likely to be found garbed in robes and sandals strolling through the neighborhood. Friar Benedict Groeschel, a cofounder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal with his own EWTN Cable Television show, has long been affiliated with Trinity House, which hosts a range of spiritual programs. (See: Trinity Retreat on the Franciscan Friars website.)

Local authorities had not been apprised of the archdiocese program. Detective Lt. Christopher Hearle of the New Rochelle Police Department said his office had not been notified, but that only legally convicted abusers would be required to register under NY law. “Our people were not aware of this program,” said Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the Westchester District Attorney. He said a long-standing agreement with the NY Archdiocese calls for notifying Westchester if any archdiocese employee has been accused of sexual abuse or other sexual misconduct. There has been no notification this year.

The new program for alleged abusers was also news to Father Brian McWeeney of Larchmont’s Sts. John and Paul Church who said, “This behavior brings pain to every religious person – that someone would violate the tenets of the faith and cause irreparable damage.” However, he was not concerned that the two priests would be in Larchmont. Given his knowledge of some Trinity House personnel and their compassion and knowledge of human behavior, "I’m more concerned with those people who are without supervision and care,” he said.

“We want it dealt with – but not in our community,” said Father Brian. “But it has to be dealt with in someone’s community. Here we have control over the situation.”