Mamaroneck Priest Charged With Sexually Abusing A Woman

There May Be Other Allegations Against Father Richard Ordoñez

by Judy Silberstein

richardordonez(December 10, 2008) On Tuesday, December 8, Mamaroneck Village police arrested Father Richard Ordoñez, 37, a visiting priest at St. Vito’s church in Mamaroneck, and charged him with sexually abusing a female adult in January of 2004. The woman accused Father Ordoñez of fondling her breasts and other private parts in the rectory of St. Vito’s at 816 Underhill Road.

Since then, a case manager with a Westchester social service agency reported to the Gazette that four women referred for marriage counseling with Father Ordoñez from 2003 to 2004 later said they had been sexually abused when the priest asked to see them in a solo session. The allegations ranged from rape to inappropriate touching.

One woman told the case manager the priest forced her to have sex with him, and another said he tried to force her to have sex. A third said she left her husband after falling in love with the priest and entering a consensual sexual relationship with him, which she later deeply regretted. A fourth said the priest touched the top of her legs “in a very fresh way,” according to the case manager, who would speak only on condition of anonymity in order to protect the identity of her clients, some of whom are undocumented immigrants.

“I advised everyone to go to the police, but everyone was scared,” said the case manager.

Undocumented victims should not fear coming forward, said Lt. James Gaffney, spokesperson for the Mamaroneck police. "It is not our duty to address if a female is in this country illegally - it is our duty to assist a woman who has been sexually abused," he stressed.

Anyone who has information about this situation - or any other similar situation - can speak to the Mamaroneck Village police in confidence by calling 825-8541. There are Hispanic officers who will assist in communication.

Priest Arrested at Airport

The complainant who did come forward against Father Ordoñez contacted police on September 24, 2008, when she learned that the priest, who was out of the country at the time, would be returning to the parish. Father Ordoñez did come back to St. Vito’s in early December, and police began their investigation.

On December 8, police located the priest at JFK Airport at around 11 am, where he was awaiting a flight back to his home country, Ecuador. Father Ordoñez was taken into custody, returned to Mamaroneck and later arraigned before Judge Dan Gallagher.

The charge against Father Ordoñez is sexual abuse in the first degree, a D felony, with a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison. He is accused of “subjecting the victim to sexual contact by forcible touching.” According to New York’s penal law, this could include squeezing, grabbing or pinching.

The judge ordered Father Ordoñez to surrender his passports, from Ecuador and Canada, and remanded him to Westchester County jail without bail. On Thursday morning, December 11, Judge Gallagher set bail at $50,000 and scheduled the next hearing for December 18. As of late Thursday evening, the priest was still in custody.

Reaction: From the Church & Community

Father Ordoñez, a Salesian priest ordained in 1999 in Quito, Ecuador, underwent a standard background check before receiving permission from the Archdiocese of New York to serve as an extern priest at St. Vito’s, according to Joseph Zwilling, archdiocese spokesperson. “There were no problems,” said Mr. Zwilling.

Now, he added, Father Ordoñez’s “permission has been removed pending the outcome of the investigation.”

When Father Ordoñez first came to St. Vito's in March of 2003, he did not speak English, said Mary Marino, a life-long parishioner of the church who worked with the priest in her capacity as music director and organist. “Over time, he wanted his own Spanish-speaking people to be with him, to do everything with him, and I was not at the Spanish masses with him,“ said Ms. Marino, who described herself as Italian-American, like many long-time members of the church. “As far as I am concerned, he was a gentleman – he treated me and my family with respect.”

“They have a very big group of Spanish-speaking people who attend mass on Sunday at 12:30,” said Tony Marsella, another life-long parishioner. “That’s where [Father Richard] did his best work,” he added.

Harold Lasso, who was executive director of the Hispanic Resource Center (HRC) when the abuse is alleged to have occurred, recalled a number of complaints of "some sort of inappropriate touching" in a support group run by Father Ordoñez. "Nothing rose so there was a strong reason to press charges or file a complaint," he said, "but there were commentaries from clients that they felt uncomfortable around him and I recommended that they speak to the hierarchies at the church."

"I know that sometimes people are reluctant to come forward if they are undocumented - but people should know that if they have been victims of a crime, they may be protected under the U visa program," said Mr. Lasso. (See: U Visas - Immigration Relief for Victims of Certain Crimes.)

"I understand that parishioners are torn," said Mariana Boneo, the current HRC director. Many of the center's clients attend St. Vito's. "Father Richard was popular among the Hipanics, and it must have come as a shock to many of them to hear such a horrible situation. I hope that eventually the church can heal from this."