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Parishioners disturbed by volunteer’s arrest

Few wanted to talk about him, and many who did described a steadfast worshiper who sat in the front pew every Sunday while his wife sang in the church choir.

But more than a week after Resurrection-Ascension Church volunteer Nicholas Pascale was arrested for allegedly soliciting teenage boys he met on the streets of Woodside and Maspeth to pose in nude photographs, some parishioners said they have long had misgivings about the undue attention the 52-year-old focused on their sons.

Pascale was arraigned May 24 on charges of endangering the welfare of a child, sexual abuse and attempted use of a child in a sexual performance, and he remained in custody this week with bail set at $250,000, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney said.

A number of parish parents who spoke to the TimesLedger on the condition of anonymity said Pascale had invited their teenage boys to join him on museum trips or to attend Christmas parties at his home without their parents present — offers he extended with a persistence they found discomfiting and unusual.

“This guy would approach him all the time,” one mother from Middle Village said of Pascale and her now 17-year-old son, who was 14 or 15 at the time. “Every time he went to church, every time he went to mass, the guy was next to him. After the mass he came to him and he asked him to go to the museum.”

The woman, who has been in the parish for 14 years, said Pascale’s intense interest was alarming enough that her son would actively avoid him.

Although none of their children ever agreed to go with him and there is no evidence to suggest his intentions were inappropriate, the parents were disturbed by the ease with which Pascale’s eager volunteerism gave him access to so many youngsters in the Rego Park parish.

But other members of the congregation who attended Sunday mass this week simply described Pascale as an enthusiastic volunteer who never stood out for any reason beyond his zeal for church activities, most notably the bimonthly magazine that he edited, “More Good News,” and the children’s liturgy lessons he taught during Mass.

He was also a teacher in School District 24 but retired with an apparent disability in 1994, after having worked at both PS 13 in Elmhurst and IS 77 in Ridgewood.

“It’s unfortunate, this whole situation is unfortunate,” said Monsignor Vincent Fullam, who since January has served as pastor at Resurrection-Ascension. “He has been suspended as far as any kind of public activity here in the parish.”

A second mother from Middle Village whose two sons served as altar boys said Pascale used to gravitate toward them as well.

“He would continually be in the church and he would go in the back where altar boys change, and he would always be talking to them,” she said.

A third mother said she had not heard of any concerns about Pascale until after his arrest, at which point her now 19-year-old son told her Pascale had also approached him.

“He was really shocked and amazed and wanted to talk to me about it, saying how lucky he was to escape and how many times Mr. Pascale had invited him to his house,” she said.

Most alarming to both Middle Village women were episodes in which Pascale visited the Resurrection-Ascension School to ask eighth graders to participate in the parish magazine, and then invited them to attend a Christmas party at his home to which their parents would not be invited.

“They knew it was inappropriate as soon as you say, ‘Don’t tell your parents,’” said the second mother from Middle Village. “I thought that was a lapse in judgment on the part of the principal to allow him into the classroom.”

The principal of the school, Sister Margaret Sweeney, declined to comment about Pascale or any of his classroom visits.

Fullam said no background check is performed on parish members who work with children. They are evaluated “just by word of mouth.” A spokesman for the DA said Pascale has no prior criminal record.

The parents said they were disturbed by how easily church involvement gave Pascale access to their children. But a churchgoer who volunteers with Pascale defended the school administrators, noting that they are extremely strict about limiting adult access to students in the school — even for parents with children in the school like herself.

The concerned parents said they had never brought the matter to the attention of church leaders for fear their suggestions, which were based more on hunches than specific episodes, would be considered inappropriate.

“I feel badly because I feel that there wasn’t an atmosphere where you could say, ‘Gee, I feel misgivings about this person,’” the second Middle Village mother said.

But a number of children who remembered Pascale from delivering the children’s liturgy described him as an effective, likable teacher who caused no problems for them.

“He was a good teacher during the liturgy,” said Mark Wnukonski, 12, of Glendale. “He basically just talked about the Bible stories and gave a thorough explanation and put it in terms that the children could understand.”

Before he joined Resurrection-Ascension, Pascale and his wife had served as pre-cana teachers at the Our Lady of Hope parish in Middle Village, but Monsignor Nicholas Sivillo said he asked them to discontinue their service 10 years ago because “his philosophy was a little different from ours.”

“It was basically, ‘This is the way we live our married life, this is the way it should be, and if it’s not you shouldn’t be married,’” Sivillo said of Pascale’s approach.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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