Priest accused of sex assault

BY STACI WILSON and ROBERT L. BAKER

Phillip Ferrara, a priest at Our Lady of Solitude in Little Meadows, is led into Montrose District Court Friday for his arraignment on sex charges.STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

 

A priest from a Susquehanna County monastery is accused of sexually assaulting a teen boy whose family was staying at the cloistered retreat in Little Meadows.

Phillip Albert Ferrara, 48, of 550 Lake of the Meadows Road, Little Meadows, faces three counts of indecent assault of a person under the age of 16 and three corruption of minor charges stemming from incidents that occurred between Nov. 3, 2010, and Jan. 2.

All are misdemeanor counts. Tpr. Mark Keyes filed the charges against the priest.

Ferrara turned himself in at the Gibson State Police barracks Friday at about 9:30 a.m.

He is referred to as Superior Hieromonk Angelus on the monastery’s website but no additional background is given as to his religious training.

According to the police affidavit, Ferrara allegedly told a 14-year-old boy his sperm duct was blocked and was causing him intense back pain and it helped when his penis was massaged.

The juvenile was on retreat with his family at the Our Lady of Solitude monastery, 550 Lake of Meadows Dr., in Apolacon Twp., at the time of the alleged incidents.

The victim said he had massaged Ferrara’s penis with his feet on two occasions, according to the affidavit.

The teen told police he had felt bad for Ferrara because he was in pain and on about 10 separate occasions he had also massaged the priest’s back with oil.

According to the affidavit, Ferrara was introduced to the victim’s family as the administrator at the Eastern Catholic cloistered monastery.

According to the Our Lady of Solitude website, the cloister is one of six monasteries of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Mass.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic (Byzantine) Church in full union with the Roman Catholic Church rooted in Lebanon and the Middle East.

In 2010, there were 59,704 Melkite Catholics in the United States and Canada, with parishes in 18 states.

A spokesperson who answered the phone Friday at the church’s American headquarters in Massachusetts but wished not to be identified said that its Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros was in Miami, Fla., and would be unable to return a call before Monday.

He did not return calls on Monday or Tuesday before this paper went to press.

The church’s website notes that it has a ‘Safeguarding children policy’ which considers children a “sacred responsibility” and if there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, the eparchial bishop – in this case Archbishop Bustros – is to “remove the alleged offender from the sacred ministry.” It is not clear if this has occurred.

A visit to the monastery Monday, and subsequent phone calls to it on Tuesday have also gone unheeded.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton issued a statement that even though Susquehanna County was in its purview, the Melchite Catholic Church was not. It also underscored that the victim was presently a resident of Berks County which is within the Diocese of Allentown.

Police interviewed Ferrara on March 9 with his attorney Charlie Wage present.

According to police, the priest admitted having inappropriate contact with the minor on three separate occasions but indicated to police it was for a medical problem of blocked sperm ducts.

Ferrara told police he thought the juvenile was mature enough to tell about his condition and the teen offered to help him.

The victim said, according to the affidavit, that Ferrara had another priest “do this for him years ago.”

Ferrara also said he had the juvenile use his feet to massage his penis because the youth had small hands, according to the affidavit.

Ferrara told police that one incident occurred while he was in a bathtub totally naked. The other two incidents, Ferrara told police, took place in the priest’s bed.

According to the affidavit, he also told police he asked the boy to lie on top of him during the third incident but then thought he had crossed the line and questioned the youth’s intentions. Ferrara said he then ended his close relationship with the youth.

Ferrara told police the teen’s family had come to the retreat due to home issues and that the boy had reportedly downloaded pornography off the internet.

According to the affidavit, Ferrara claimed to police he was trying to help the family with its issues and that is why he accepted them to come stay at the monastery.

Ferrara was arraigned at the District Court in Montrose by Magisterial Judge Jeffrey Hollister and released on $10,000 unsecured bail.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 4.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, issued a statement Friday: “We hope that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered crimes or misdeeds of Fr. Ferrara will come forward, get help, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing.”

She added, “Child sex abuse is a crime, should be treated like a crime, and should be reported to law enforcement authorities, not church authorities.”