Thursday, September 22, 2005


Ridgefield priest accused of sex abuse

Ridgefield, New Jersey - A Catholic priest who served 13 years at St. Matthew's Church in Ridgefield is facing accusations of sexual abuse by two former parishioners.

The Rev. Peter Cheplic, who worked at the church from 1972 to 1985, stepped down from his position at a Bayonne church last month after the Newark Archdiocese received a complaint from Joe Capozzi, a 36-year-old Manhattan resident who said Cheplic molested him in the 1980s.

The second accuser, Raymond Capone, 40, of South Plainfield, filed a complaint with the archdiocese last week, alleging that Cheplic fondled him in the mid-1980s after getting him drunk.

Cheplic, 59, hasn't been charged with a crime. And, as in other church sexual abuse cases, it's unlikely law enforcement authorities will press charges because the allegations date back two decades.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Cheplic is prohibited from working as a priest until the accusations are investigated by a church review board. He also said the archdiocese is informing the county prosecutors about the allegations.

Both accusers, who have given their accounts to The Record, said they became acquainted with Cheplic while attending St. Matthew's with their families. They said the abuse occurred after Cheplic left the parish for churches in Hudson and Essex counties.

"He entered my life when I was 7 or 8," Capozzi said Tuesday. "He gained our family's trust to the point where I would stay overnight with him in the rectory and go on vacations with him."

Capozzi said there were multiple instances of abuse that began when he was 16 and continued into his early 20s.

Capone recalled a single instance of abuse by Cheplic, but didn't remember how old he was at the time. He may have been as young as 17 or as old as 20.

Capone said he had fallen asleep on a rectory floor in East Orange after Cheplic served him wine.

"The next thing I know, my clothes have been removed and Pete is hovering over me on all fours," Capone said. "And I am being fondled."

The archdiocese reviewed another allegation of misconduct against Cheplic in 2002. But church officials determined he could return to the ministry because the accuser wasn't a minor, Goodness said.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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