Sunday, May 19, 2024

Brooklyn auxiliary bishop cleared of negligence charges

The Diocese of Brooklyn said that a Vatican-ordered investigation into a retired auxiliary bishop has ended, concluding that allegations against Bishop Raymond Chappetto are unfounded.

Chappetto, a now-retired auxiliary bishop who was vicar general of the Brooklyn diocese, was accused in 2021 of administrative negligence, namely failing to disclose appropriately that a Brooklyn priest was prohibited from contact with minors, and thus potentially putting minors at risk.

But in a statement sent to The Pillar Thursday, the diocese said it had been informed by apostolic nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre that “upon examination of the Vos estis investigation report in a complaint against Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond F. Chappetto, the Dicastery for Bishops has concluded the allegations ‘are manifestly unfounded, and the case has been closed.’”

The diocese said it was not able to provide details into the investigation, which was conducted by Archbishop Leonard Blair, who retired earlier this month as Archbishop of Hartford, Connecticut. 

But the diocesan statement said that after Blair’s investigation, “Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A., the prefect of the [Vatican] Dicastery for Bishops, extinguished the charges against Bishop Chappetto and definitively concluded the investigation.”

The Archdiocese of Hartford declined to confirm the Diocese of Brooklyn's report, with a spokesman telling The Pillar that “it would not be our place to discuss the case.”

In addition to its own statement, the Diocese of Brooklyn provided a statement from Chappetto, 78, who said that “these allegations were untrue, and I am grateful the investigation has determined that.”

“I fully cooperated with this inquiry and am grateful my name has been cleared,” the bishop’s statement added.

The allegations against Chappetto first emerged in March 2022, when The Pillar reported that Chappetto was subject to a Vos estis investigation. 

The allegations against the bishop charged two instances of administrative misconduct. Both concerned a Brooklyn priest, Fr. ​​Uririoghene Okrokoto, who was prohibited from contact with minors in August 2019, after allegations of “boundary violations and grooming” with teenage girls, according to the complaint filed against the bishop.

After he was sent to the St. Luke’s Institute for mental health treatment, Okrokoto was assigned to residence at a Brooklyn parish in June 2021.

But according to the Vos estis complaint, Chappetto failed to inform the pastor at Okrokoto’s rectory that the priest was prohibited from having contact with minors, despite the bishop’s supervisory responsibility for him.  

Within months of his assignment there, Okrokoto was seen at the parish in the company of a teenage girl, in violation of the penal precept that prohibited him from contacting minors. He was removed again from ministry in October 2021 and remains suspended, the Brooklyn diocese told The Pillar.

But after Okrokoto was suspended, chancery officials discovered that Chappetto had received in September 2020 a memo from the parish where Okrokoto had lived between 2018 and 2021.

The parish pastor complained that despite the mental health treatment he had received, Okrokoto continued to spend time in the company of teenage girls, “as he used to do before he went to St. Luke.” 

The pastor also complained that in 2019 Okrokoto had made a habit of visiting classes in the parish school, despite the prohibition of contact or ministry with minors. 

“In my view, it will be very difficult for him to have a place in any rectory,” the pastor wrote.

According to the Vos estis complaint, “Bishop Chappetto never shared this information with the Diocesan Review Board, Diocesan Investigator, the Vicar for Canonical Affairs or the Vice Chancellor…who assists the Vicar of Canonical Affairs in all matters related to the Bishops’ Charter, which would be a direct violation of Article 1, B of Vos estis lux mundi,” the 2019 norms promulgated by Pope Francis.

Without that information, Okrokoto was assigned to the rectory where he again violated the order against contact with minors, the complaint alleged.

It is not clear what the Vatican’s investigation uncovered about those allegations. 

The Brooklyn diocese said it did not have details on the substance of the investigation, and had only been informed of the findings. 

With the Hartford archdiocese unwilling to comment, it is not clear whether the Vos estis investigation determined that Chappetto had exercised sufficient oversight over Okrokoto, that elements of the allegation were not accurate.

For his part, the Brooklyn diocese said that Chappetto will “continue to freely exercise his priestly and episcopal ministry.”

The investigation into Chappetto is not the only Vos estis investigation into Brooklyn diocesan leaders in recent years.

In September 2021, the Brooklyn diocese announced a Vatican judgment that sexual abuse allegations made against Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio did not have the semblance of truth. 

DiMarzio was investigated over claims that more than 40 years ago, he allegedly committed sexual abuse against at two alleged victims. 

When the Vatican announced its findings, DiMarzio issued a statement emphasizing that he “did nothing wrong,” and that “these allegations have absolutely no merit.”

While several U.S. bishops are known to have faced Vos estis lux mundi investigations since 2019, the total number is not known, because the Vatican has had unclear and seemingly inconsistent policies regarding the disclosure of such investigations in the U.S., and has only infrequently indicated directly their results. 

The 2019 norms of Vos estis lux mundi were intended by Pope Francis to bring clarity, transparency, and consistency to the investigation of bishops accused of sexual abuse or administrative misconduct.