Too Close for Comfort

A special investigation by News 12 Westchester revealed that a New Rochelle church has been allowing a group of sex addicts to hold meetings side-by-side with hundreds of children.

The probe began in November 2008 after News 12 received several anonymous complaints from parishioners of the Holy Family Church.

Every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., dozens of children are dropped off at the Catholic church on Clove Road to take part in a weekly basketball game. Just steps away from the church gymnasium, people suffering from various sex addictions are gathering to battle their demons on the same day and time.

The monthly four-hour gathering attracts a diverse crowd, including pornography addicts and pedophiles who cross paths with children as they file into the gymnasium.

When confronted about the sex addict meetings, Monsignor John Woolsey, the associate pastor of the Holy Family Church, denied any knowledge of the gatherings.

"This is the first I've ever heard of it," Woolsey said. "I'm not in charge of scheduling."

Monsignor Ferdinando Berardi, the pastor of the Holy Family Church, was not available for comment.

New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll said he was not comfortable with the location of the meetings based on the videotapes showed to him.

"It's like bringing someone to a candy store who has a sugar addiction," Carroll said.

The police commissioner went on to say that the situation requires immediate action.

"You don't need to bring sex offenders in the vicinity of children if, when and where we can help it," he said. "And in this case it can be helped, so whoever scheduled this meeting at this location probably used bad judgment because they didn't think through what the potential risks are."

Tashieun Carney, who used to play basketball at the church as a teen, was stunned to learn the true nature of the gatherings he had watched for years. Carney thinks that although the church did not have a legal responsibility to alert the community, it had a moral obligation to keep people informed.

"I'd like to have known if I was walking past danger," he said.

While church officials denied requests made by News 12 for on-air interviews, Joe Zwilling, the communications director for the New York Archdiocese, said in an e-mail that the church was paid to host the Sexaholics Anonymous meetings, which have been taking place for many years. Zwilling added, however, that following News 12's report, the gatherings were canceled.

The Holy Family Church is not the only parish in Westchester County that holds similar meetings. Churches in Ardsley, White Plains and Pearl River also open their doors to sex addicts, usually without the knowledge of local residents. Since churches are nonprofit organizations, there is little police can do about the gatherings without complaints being filed.

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