‘Vos estis’ report charges Brooklyn’s Chappetto put minors at risk
News: 'Vos estis lux mundi'; Diocese of Brooklyn
A December complaint sent through the U.S. bishops’ abuse reporting system alleges that a now-retired Brooklyn auxiliary bishop put minors at risk, by enabling a priest to be in contact with teenage girls despite allegations of grooming behavior.
Bishop Raymond Chappetto retired last month as auxiliary bishop and vicar general in the Brooklyn diocese. He is now the subject of a Vatican-ordered investigation under the terms of Vos estis lux mundi, the 2019 policy promulgated by Pope Francis on investigating abuse or administrative misconduct allegations against bishops.
The complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar, alleges two instances of administrative misconduct on the part of Chappetto. Both concern a Brooklyn priest, Fr. Uririoghene Okrokoto, who was prohibited from contact with minors in August 2019, after allegations of “boundary violations and grooming” with teenage girls, according to the complaint filed against the bishop.
After he was sent to the St. Luke’s Institute for mental health treatment, Okrokoto was assigned to residence at a Brooklyn parish in June 2021.
But according to the Vos estis complaint, Chappetto failed to inform the pastor at Okrokoto’s rectory that the priest was prohibited from having contact with minors, despite the bishop’s supervisory responsibility for him.
Within months of his assignment there, Okrokoto was seen at the parish in the company of a teenage girl, in violation of the penal precept that prohibited him from contacting minors. He was removed again from ministry in October 2021 and remains suspended, the Brooklyn diocese told The Pillar.
After Okrokoto was suspended, chancery officials discovered that Chappetto had received in September 2020 a memo from the parish where Okrokoto had lived between 2018 and 2021.
The parish pastor complained that despite the mental health treatment he had received, Okrokoto continued to spend time in the company of teenage girls, “as he used to do before he went to St. Luke.”
The pastor also complained that in 2019 Okrokoto had made a habit of visiting classes in the parish school, despite the prohibition of contact or ministry with minors.
“In my view, it will be very difficult for him to have a place in any rectory,” the pastor wrote.
According to the Vos estis complaint, “Bishop Chappetto never shared this information with the Diocesan Review Board, Diocesan Investigator, the Vicar for Canonical Affairs or the Vice Chancellor…who assists the Vicar of Canonical Affairs in all matters related to the Bishops’ Charter, which would be a direct violation of Article 1, B of Vos estis lux mundi.”
Sources close to both the review board and the Brooklyn chancery told The Pillar that if Chappetto had shared the pastor’s memo with diocesan officials and advisors, Okrokoto would not have been assigned in June 2021 to residence in another parish rectory, because the memo charged that he had serially violated the restrictions on his ministry.
But without that information, they said, Okrokoto was assigned to the rectory where he again violated the order against contact with minors.
The Vos estis report was filed by Jasmine Salazar, who was until recently vice-chancellor in the Brooklyn diocese. Salazar, who declined comment to The Pillar, resigned from her position in the diocese this month.
Sources close to the Brooklyn chancery told The Pillar that several diocesan officials consulted among themselves about filing the Vos estis complaint before Salazar actually made the report.
While the Vos estis investigation is charged with looking into Chappetto, questions have also been raised in Brooklyn about Bishop Robert Brennan’s decision to reappoint Chappetto as diocesan vicar general after the complaint against him was filed.
Brennan was installed Dec. 1 as Brooklyn’s bishop, and was reportedly informed soon after that a complaint against Chappetto had been filed. The bishop nevertheless reappointed Chappetto as vicar general, a bishop’s chief deputy, and allowed Chappetto to remain in that position until his March retirement.
Priests in the Columbus, Ohio, diocese, where Brennan served before Brooklyn, told The Pillar the bishop has been well-respected for his handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
But in Brooklyn, Salazar and other Brooklyn officials reportedly expressed frustration that Brennan retained Chappetto in a senior administrative role, even after he was presented with evidence of Chappetto’s alleged administrative misconduct.
Sources close to the review board told The Pillar that Salazar was “frozen out at work” after she complained about Chappetto’s continued role in the diocese — seeing her email turned off and not being invited to meetings before her eventual resignation.
A senior diocesan official in Brooklyn questioned that perspective, telling The Pillar on background that Salazar’s email was turned off after she resigned her position, and that Salazar was not included in meetings only during a one-month leave of absence she requested.
Chappetto, 76, was ordained a Brooklyn priest in 1971, and was consecrated a bishop in 2012.
In response to questions, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn diocese told The Pillar Monday “the diocese is fully committed to having the best practices for the protection of minors and other vulnerable persons.”
“At this time, the diocese cannot comment further about these matters, other than to say that we fully support the independent Vos estis process.”