WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

St. Rocco's priest's legacy is questioned

Sexual abuse victim calls for removal of name from church

Posted

The Rev. Eligio Della Rosa served the parish of the Church of St. Rocco for more than 15 years. Although he first arrived in Glen Cove in 1965 for a four-year stay, it wasn’t until he returned in 1975 that he solidified his legacy in the city by reinstating the famous Feast of St. Rocco’s, a five-day festival celebrating the church and the city’s Italian-American heritage.

The annual festival, known locally as the “Best Feast in the East,” attracts hundreds of visitors to the city. For Della Rosa’s work at St. Rocco’s, the church named a parish center after him. Della Rosa died while serving at the church in 1991.

While he is remembered for his service in Glen Cove, an allegation of sexual abuse against him recently resurfaced: The attorney for a man who claims the priest abused him more than 50 years ago, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Rocky Point, is demanding that the priest’s name be removed from the St. Rocco parish center. The attorney, Mitchell Garabedian — who was portrayed by actor Stanley Tucci in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s series of stories detailing the abuse allegations against priests in Boston — said he had reached an out-of-court, low-six-figure settlement with the Diocese of Rockville Centre last September for Della Rosa’s alleged abuse of the man when he was a teenager in 1964, a year before Della Rosa came to Glen Cove.

“He asked my client to meet him in the pews of the church, and my client did,” Garabedian said by phone at a news conference outside the Church of St. Rocco on Feb. 5. “And that’s where my client was sexually abused by Father Della Rosa, by Father Della Rosa instructing my client to perform oral sex on Father Della Rosa at the age of 14.”

Robert Hoatson, a retired New Jersey priest who founded Road to Recovery, which helps survivors of sexual abuse, organized the news conference. Hoatson, who has worked with Garabedian and with other victims who have settled cases with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said that Garabedian had contacted him to push for the removal of Della Rosa’s name from the Church of St. Rocco. Hoatson said that in the months since the case against Della Rosa in Rocky Point was settled, the Diocese of Rockville Centre should have informed St. Rocco’s about the case and removed his name from the parish center. 

“The possible removal of the names of accused clergy that may appear on church buildings is a matter that is under active review,” said Sean Dolan, the diocese’s director of communications.

Officials of the Church of St. Rocco said only that they would defer to the diocese on whether to remove Della Rosa’s name from the parish center.

Hoatson, who was a victim of abuse himself, said that when parishes acknowledge the harm that abusive priests have done, it helps the survivors heal. He added that early in Della Rosa’s career, he had the chance to work with children as a member of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, which focuses on children. By putting a spotlight on Della Rosa’s past, Hoatson explained, he hoped to find others whom Della Rosa might have victimized so they, too, could recieve the help and justice they deserve. 

“He was at St. Rocco’s for so long,” Hoatson said. “Who knows how many were at risk?” 

While the Diocese of Rockville Centre said that the names of all clergy members, church employees and volunteers connected to the sexual of abuse of minors, whether credible or not, have been given to law enforcement authorities, the names have not been released to the public. The fact that no priests from the diocese appeared in a comprehensive list of accused clergy members published by the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica on Jan. 28 was what spurred Garabedian to team up with Hoatson. 

Hoatson said that by increasing its transparency, the diocese could help ease victims’ pain. If the diocese does not remove Della Rosa’s name, he said, and if the victim supports Hoatson’s continued efforts, he will hold another news conference to push for the change.  

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse can find more information and resources here.”