The Vatican has commissioned an investigation into a recently retired auxiliary bishop, who served as the vicar general in the Diocese of Brooklyn until his retirement Monday. At least one diocesan official has resigned in protest over the handling of the complaint, according to sources in the diocese.
Bishop Raymond Chappetto, 76, whose resignation was announced by the Vatican on March 7, is accused of failing to pass on to the Brooklyn diocesan review board and diocesan officials a memo about a priest who had been accused of misconduct. The Vatican has directed the bishop of a New York diocese to investigate, sources in Brooklyn and the Vatican told The Pillar.
The investigation has raised questions among some in Brooklyn about the decision of Brooklyn’s Bishop Robert Brennan to leave Chappetto in place as vicar general for more than four months after he became aware of complaints to the Vatican about Chappetto’s conduct in office.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed to The Pillar Wednesday that a complaint had been made against Chappetto under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, but said the diocese “has no knowledge that an investigation has been started.”
“Any Vos estis investigation would be independent of the Diocese of Brooklyn,” the spokesperson said.
According to sources close to the diocese, Chappetto received in September 2020 a memo about a priest who was temporarily out of ministry because of an instance of misconduct, and participating in a treatment program.
The memo came from a Brooklyn parish pastor who had served with the priest. It warned that the priest had exhibited a pattern of persistently problematic behavior — red flags which suggested the priest should never be permitted to be returned to a parish setting.
Chapetto did not forward that memo to the diocesan review board or to other diocesan officials, as required by diocesan protocols, sources said. Lacking the information, the review board recommended that the accused priest be assigned to a parish after he completed his treatment program — which he was.
“Because of that omission, the review board recommended that this guy come back to limited ministry and residence in a parish, when the memo clearly had said this guy should not be in a parish” a Brooklyn source close to the review board told The Pillar.
The priest was subsequently removed again from ministry, after another allegation of serious misconduct.
One source close to the diocese said Chappetto withheld the memo to protect the priest it warned about.
“Bishop Chappetto was not sharing important information in the diocese. And this was a pattern,” the source told The Pillar.
“It was definitely a pattern, he was trying to protect people.”
Diocesan officials discovered in November 2021 that Chappetto had withheld the memo, and they made a report that month through the third-party Vos estis lux mundi reporting system. Sources close to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and the Brooklyn diocese have confirmed that the investigation is underway.
The investigation is reportedly being overseen by another New York diocese, rather than the Archdiocese of New York, sources told The Pillar, despite the ordinary policy of Vos estis for investigations to be overseen by the local metropolitan archdiocese.
While the investigation is ongoing, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced Wednesday the resignation of two senior diocesan officials: Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, who had been moderator of the curia, and Jasmine Salazar, who was director of the Office for Protection of Children and Young People, victim assistance coordinator, and diocesan vice-chancellor.
Senior sources in Brooklyn told The Pillar that Hernandez and Salazar resigned after Brennan kept Chappetto in office as vicar general, the diocesan bishop’s chief deputy, despite the Vos estis complaint, and despite evidence that Chappetto had withheld the 2020 memo from the diocesan review board.
“People thought [Chappetto] would be out, but then he just stayed and stayed as vicar general,” a source close to the chancery told The Pillar.
Eventually, “Jasmine wrote a very, very strong letter of complaint,” a source close to the diocesan review board told The Pillar. “But after that, she was frozen out at work — she stopped getting invited to meetings, her email was turned off. It was like the bishop didn’t want to hear that Chappetto needed to be out.”
Salazar announced her resignation March 2.
“The survivor community is reeling,” one source told The Pillar. “Jasmine did so much to show that she cared.”
Hernandez and Salazar are believed to be among the officials who made the report against Chappetto.
In a further statement on Friday, the Diocese of Brooklyn told The Pillar that “for the avoidance of any doubt, there was no retaliation of any kind in connection with this matter.”
“The Diocese has consistently encouraged any claim of abuse to be reported to the independent reporting line, which forwards all information to law enforcement. The Diocese has always cooperated with the Vos estis process and pledges to continue that cooperation.”
Vos estis lux mundi, the Vatican policy which governs cover-up or abuse investigations against bishops, contains a whistleblower protection provision.
“Retaliation or discrimination as a consequence of having submitted a report is prohibited,” the text explains, and could itself be treated as an instance of obstructing justice, and the grounds for an investigation under the norms of Vos estis.
Clerical sources in Brooklyn have expressed sympathy for Brennan, who was confronted with the allegations against Chappetto immediately after his Dec. 1 installation, but others have charged that Brennan should have removed Chappetto from the vicar general’s office after he received evidence of his misconduct, and that he was retaliatory toward Salazar after she raised concerns about that.
Amid criticism of his handling of the allegation against Chappetto, it is possible that Brennan could also face a Vatican investigation, if a report is filed regarding the alleged retaliation against Salazar.
Although Brennan was aware that Chappetto was facing a Vatican investigation for concealing critical information, he praised the auxiliary bishop when Chappetto’s resignation was announced.
“I share the appreciation of so many in the diocese for Bishop Chappetto’s many years of dedicated service here in Brooklyn and Queens. Personally, I thank him for staying on beyond the retirement age to assist with the transition, and to Pope Francis for allowing that,” Brennan wrote in a March 7 Facebook post, which made no mention of the allegations or complaint against Chappetto.
Asked whether the announcement of Chappetto’s resignation on March 7 was related to the Vos estis complaint, the Brooklyn diocese told The Pillar that Chappetto submitted his resignation when he turned 75, in line with canon law. The resignation was accepted, but Chappetto was asked to remain in post to help with the transition to a new diocesan bishop, which took place in December 2021.
It is not clear when Hernandez resigned from his diocesan post, but several sources say the priest’s resignation was meant to come as a show of support of Salazar.
“Monsignor and Jasmine worked together all the time. He really supported her all the time. So he was upset about what had happened,” one Brooklyn source told The Pillar.
“He won’t say anything about it, but people close to him know that he resigned because of what happened with Jasmine,” another source close to the chancery told The Pillar.
Neither Salazar nor Hernandez could be reached for comment.
Asked about the resignations, the spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn told The Pillar that the diocese could not comment on the “personal nature of their decisions.”
“Bishop Brennan has been in Brooklyn for around 100 days and is building his leadership team,” the spokesperson said. “It is quite common for there to be changes in key positions at a diocese with a new bishop, along with retirements and resignations. This is no different than other organizations when there is new leadership.”
The spokesperson added that “Jasmine Salazar and Monsignor Hernandez worked for over a decade at the chancery. We are grateful for their service.”
Ed. note: This story is developing and has been updated.