A Rotterdam pastor is voluntarily stepping back from public ministry as he is investigated for allegations of child sexual abuse.
“In light of a single allegation of sexual abuse that was first reported in a Child Victims Act case, Father Vincent Ciotoli, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Schenectady and St. Margaret of Cortona in Rotterdam, has voluntarily withdrawn from public ministry while the independent Diocesan Review Board investigates the claim,” states a Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany release issued Saturday.
Ciotoli is maintaining his innocence, according to the release.
Diocesan director of communications Mary DeTurris Poust said the claim was brought via litigation.
Father James Belogi, pastor of St. Madeline Sophie in Guilderland and St. Gabriel the Archangel in Rotterdam, celebrated the 4 p.m. Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Saturday in Ciotoli’s absence. After Mass, Belogi read a letter from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger to the congregation addressing the allegation.
“We as a Church and as individual Catholics have a solemn moral responsibility to do all we can to ensure children are safe in every Catholic place, and we are committed to meeting that responsibility,” part of the letter stated.
Ciotoli addressed this same complaint with his congregation about a year ago.
The complaint was not verified at that time, “meaning the plaintiff has not yet certified that the pleading is true,” DeTurris Poust said.
She said the complaint also did not include enough details for a thorough investigation.
“However, in light of the recent case involving Father John Varno and his withdrawal from ministry, Bishop Scharfenberger decided to ask the independent Diocesan Review Board — out of an abundance of caution and a commitment to transparency — to look into the case involving Father Ciotoli and to offer a recommendation,” DeTurris Poust said. “The Review Board recommended at its meeting last week that it pursue an initial investigation of the claim. As soon as that recommendation was made, Father Ciotoli withdrew from ministry.”
Varno, a retired priest, had voluntarily stepped down at the end of July as a sacramental minister for the parish cluster, comprised of the parishes of Our Lady of Grace in Ballston Lake, Immaculate Conception in Glenville and St. Joseph’s in Scotia.
“There was never any complaint made to the diocese, which means Father Varno’s case is in the hands of the attorneys,” DeTurris Poust said. “But Bishop Scharfenberger heard the concerns of parishioners and decided, out of an abundance of caution and respect for those concerns, that the best course of action was not to wait for a lengthy legal process to run its course but to ask Father Varno to voluntarily step aside even though there has been no determination of credibility of this allegation.”
DeTurris Poust said the Diocesan Review Board only investigates allegations which come straight to the Diocese.
“Lawsuits follow the legal path and typically don’t involve the Review Board, she said. “But, in this case, Bishop Scharfenberger wanted to take that extra step.”
DeTurris Poust said the church will forward the most recent complaint on to the appropriate District Attorney’s office.
“Because this is an anonymous CVA case with few details, it is difficult to conduct a thorough investigation under the circumstances,” DeTurris Poust said. “In addition, because it is in litigation, there are further restraints on what can and can’t be done. Regardless, Bishop Scharfenberger is committed to full transparency and will await the independent Diocesan Review Board’s eventual finding and recommendation.”
DeTurris Poust said the allegation did not take place during Ciotoli’s tenure in Schenectady, but rather decades before.
Ciotoli has been the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace since 2010 and pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona since it became a mission church of Our Lady Queen of Peace in 2015. Before that he served at other parishes in Schenectady, Glens Falls, Latham, Troy, Loudonville, Gloversville, Glenville, Ravena, Albany, Hoosick Falls and Rotterdam.
The Diocese said Ciotoli will not be allowed to present himself as a priest until the investigation is complete. He will not be able to wear any of his clerics, cassocks, stoles or vestments or perform any sacraments.
“At this point there is no timeline on the investigation or the litigation, but Father Ciotoli will remain on administrative leave and out of public ministry until one or both are concluded,” Deturris Poust said. “If the investigation were to find the claim credible, he would be permanently removed from ministry and added to our List of Offenders.”
The Diocese said anyone who was sexually abused by a priest or deacon should contact the police or report the incident to the Diocese by calling Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Frederick Jones at 518-453-6646 or via email at [email protected].