A Roman Catholic priest who once served at the parishes of St. Stephen’s, Kearny, and Sacred Heart, Lyndhurst, and who oversaw the formation of the now-defunct Mater Dei Academy when St. Stephen’s School and Holy Cross School, Harrison, merged to become one at the St. Stephen’s School campus, has been placed on administrative leave in his role as the chaplain at Oratory Preparatory School in Summit following allegations levied against him through the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, according to reports.
The Rev. Salvatore DiStefano, who has a wealth of experience in education both with the Archdiocese of Newark and in the secular world, has been placed on leave, but, according to Maria Margiotta, the spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, “The archdiocese also stresses that Fr. DiStefano’s leave should not be interpreted as punishment and he continues to have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. At the conclusion of a review and external investigation by civil authorities, a determination will be made regarding Fr. DiStefano’s status.”
Margiotta did not say what the allegations are — she did use the word “complaints,” as in more than one complaint — but did say they “were issued in the past several days.” It should also be clear there is no evidence that any of the allegations were to have happened in Kearny or Lyndhurst.
According to DiStefano’s biography on Oratory Prep’s website — www.oratoryprep.org — he also served as guidance counselor at Sacred Heart School, Lyndhurst, and at St. Stephen’s School, Kearny, prior to its becoming Mater Dei Academy.
He is also a former member of the New York City Community School Board, where he served as chairman of the School Safety and Security Committee — and the New York City Department of Probation’s Task Force for Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Prevention. He had been a sworn officer for the New York City Department of Probation prior to entering the priesthood.
Oratory Prep is a day school for boys in grades 7 to 12. Annual tuition there is $24,650. The actor Danny DeVito and former New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey are both alums of the school.
Margiotta issued a complete statement in response to DiStefano’s leave:
“The Archdiocese of Newark is cooperating with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office with respect to complaints issued in the past several days regarding Rev. Salvatore DiStefano, an archdiocesan priest who serves as Chaplain at Oratory Catholic Preparatory School in Summit. Fr. DiStefano has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation,” she wrote.
“The Archdiocese emphasizes that the safety of minors and students is of utmost concern and that it will strictly follow policies and procedures in line with protecting the faithful and providing a safe environment.
“The Archdiocese also stresses that Fr. DiStefano’s leave should not be interpreted as punishment and he continues to have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. At the conclusion of a review and external investigation by civil authorities, a determination will be made regarding Fr. DiStefano’s status.
“Oratory Catholic Preparatory School administration has informed parents and students of the developing situation and continues to be fully cooperative. The school has a campus ministry staff who will continue to maintain all the school’s religious education, liturgical and service programs.
“Daily and monthly schoolwide Masses will continue. Oratory Prep has long been an exemplary academic institution rooted in Catholic values and will continue to maintain those standards to provide the best experience possible for all its students.
“The Archdiocese of Newark takes very seriously any and all credible complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, religious, lay staff and volunteers of the archdiocese. Any person who wishes to report an incident of sexual abuse of a minor committed by a member of the clergy, religious, lay staff or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Newark should their county prosecutor and the Archdiocesan Office for the Protection of the Faithful at 973-497-4254. For more information, visit www.rcan.org and click on the ‘Safe Environment’ tab.”
Meanwhile, a priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark agreed to speak to The Observer on the condition of his getting anonymity because only Margiotta is authorized to speak about the situation. The priest says he’s known DiStefano “for a long time,” and “seriously doubts he is capable” of breaking the law.
“He is a priest’s priest and he takes his vocation very seriously — and is very dedicated to the world of Catholic education,” he said. “It is my sincere hope that this is just a misunderstanding — or a series of them. The Sal DiStefano I know is not capable of breaking the law — any law.”
Editor’s note: The Observer’s Kevin Canessa served as Director of Campus Ministry at Oratory Prep from 2003 to 2005.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.