By Daniel Massey
The Jamaica priest who ignited a national frenzy in 1986 when he told a class of Sunday School students that Santa Claus was dead was arrested Monday on charges he repeatedly sexually assaulted a boy in Massachusetts in the 1970s, authorities said.
The Rev. Romano Ferraro, 67, who lived at Parsons Manor, a Jamaica residence for priests, waived his right Tuesday to fight extradition to Massachusetts where he faces charges of raping a child and three additional counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, said Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex County district attorney.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, which covers Brooklyn and Queens, had suspended Ferraro in 1988 and sent him for psychological evaluation and counseling after allegations of similar sexual misconduct surfaced, said spokesman Frank DeRosa.
Queens County Court Judge Dennis Butler ordered the priest held in protective custody until another hearing Friday, but he may be extradited to Massachusetts before that court date said a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Ferraro was arrested by members of the Queens Special Victims Squad Monday afternoon at his residence on 153rd Street in Jamaica, authorities said. The arrest came just four days after a Middlesex grand jury indicted Ferraro on charges he repeatedly sexually assaulted a boy between 1973 and 1980, LaGrassa said.
According to the authorities, Ferraro, an ordained Roman Catholic priest, allegedly raped and sexually assaulted the male victim, who was between the ages of 7 and 13 at the time of the attacks, at a home in Billerica, Mass.
Ferraro was never assigned to a parish in Massachusetts. He and the victim “were known to each other at the time the alleged assaults occurred,” said a statement released by the Middlesex DA.
The arrest came amid a growing scandal involving the sexual misconduct of Roman Catholic priests, but the complaints against Ferraro were initiated last fall before the Archdiocese of Boston made any disclosures about Massachusetts priests, authorities said.
The statute of limitations was frozen because Ferraro lived outside of Massachusetts, enabling prosecutors to lodge the charges more than a decade after the last alleged incident occurred.
“The clock stops on the statute when he is outside of the district,” LaGrassa said.
Ferraro, who was ordained in 1960, worked as a Navy chaplain and served at five parishes in the Brooklyn Diocese. He had been living at Parsons Manor, which consists of several residence floors and an administrative block, for several years, but played no active role in the church since his suspension in 1988, said DeRosa.
“He was suspended from all priestly functions in the Diocese, which meant he could not do sacramental things like say mass or hear confessions or baptize” DeRosa said. “And he had no specific assignment.”
Ferraro had made national news in December 1986 when he told children in the religious education program at St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church in Woodbridge, N.J., that St. Nicholas had died in the year 350. His words sparked a national outcry among parents who said their children were driven to tears, prompting the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., to give Ferraro a leave of absence.
In a related story, on Sunday morning Baysider Daniel Dugo plans to rally outside Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 9:30 a.m. in an effort to force Edward Cardinal Egan, head of the Archdiocese of New York, and Bishop Thomas Daily, head of the Brooklyn Diocese, to hand over names of accused pedophiles to prosecutors. Dugo said he was abused by a priest in Brooklyn in 1979.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.