BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut moved a priest to a home for retired priests after he violated child protection policies, but waited weeks to explain publicly why he was moved there.
During a cruise sponsored by St. Peter parish, parochial administrator Fr. José Rebaque shared a cabin with a 15-year-old boy, according to the diocese. The diocese claims that the teen boy and his parents did not accuse Fr. Rebaque of anything sexual, saying instead that the priest blatantly violated the diocese's child protection policies by sharing a room with a minor.
Father Rebaque was notified of his removal on Sept. 25. The priest — who is not retirement age — was moved to the diocese's home for retired priests, Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of Clergy Residence in Stamford.
It was nearly a month later when, on Oct. 25, head of the Bridgeport diocese Bp. Frank Caggiano announced publicly the priest's removal from parish ministry. Bishop Caggiano said in a letter to parishioners, "because Fr. José's decision was so imprudent and disregarded the safeguards that have been put into place to protect children, I have determined that, effective immediately, Fr. José will no longer serve as parochial administrator of St. Peter Parish, nor have an assignment in the diocese in the future."
A source close to Queen of Clergy told Church Militant that the staff there "had no idea, until a news report ... in the Connecticut Post newspaper, of what his history was."
"No one was told, no one knew," the source observed, until weeks after Fr. Rebaque was moved there.
The person, who asked to remain anonymous, complained, "I don't know what the bishop was thinking," adding, "It's just a very poor decision by our bishop."
Concerning Fr. Rebaque's behavior, the source told Church Militant, "What he did was totally inappropriate."
Father Rebaque is the second priest in the diocese of Bridgeport in recent months who was removed from parish ministry after violating child protection rules. In August, Fr. Frank Gomez, formerly from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, left priestly ministry for good after it was discovered he was text messaging minors and giving them presents without their parents' consent.
The priest did nothing sexually explicit, according to the diocese; but Fr. Gomez's behavior was in violation of child protection rules. Furthermore, he was accused of physical interaction with minors that, while not sexual, was suspicious and allegedly made people uncomfortable.
Father Gomez had left St. Charles Borromeo Church and admitted himself in July to treatment at St. John Vianney Center in Downington, Pennsylvania. His caretakers and the Bridgeport diocese decided that he should move to a facility in Canada, but Fr. Gomez opted to leave priestly ministry instead of undergoing any more treatment.
Bishop Caggiano said in an Aug. 24 statement, "Unfortunately, Fr. Gomez informed me that he would not admit himself to Southdown and, furthermore, informed me that, after discernment and consultation, he has decided to leave priestly ministry permanently."
The Canadian healthcare facility that Bp. Caggiano referred to is the Southdown Institute in Ontario, which serves clergy and religious who struggle with addictions and various mental health issues.
In both the case of Fr. Rebaque and the case of Fr. Gomez, the Bridgeport diocese claimed that there were not allegations of sexual misconduct, but only claims of suspicious behavior around minors — behavior that clearly violated child protection policies.
Church Militant reached out to the diocese of Bridgeport for comment about the decision to move Fr. Rebaque from St. Peter parish to the retirement home, but did not hear back from the diocese in time for publication.
The source from Queen of Clergy said that the residence is "almost like a hotel" where retired priests can live permanently as staff members take care of chores such as meal preparation and laundry. The person called it a "lovely home" for "good priests."
Church Militant was also told the retirement residence is typically for priests age 75 and older, but Queen of Clergy has also housed much younger clergy who had to retire early for "medical" reasons.
Many of the retired priests who live at Queen of Clergy still help out at local parishes, schools, nursing homes and other places in the diocese.