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St. John’s chaplain arrested in sex sting

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Days after former St. John’s University chaplain Charles Plock was charged with sending homemade sex videos of himself to someone he believed was a 13−year−old boy in Colorado, students remain shocked and dismayed the university has not addressed the issue with them.

“One thing I find interesting is that there’s nothing on St. John’s Central,” said St. John’s alumna Bernadette Chan, of the online student interface. “No one is talking about it. Anytime a public safety thing happens you get an e−mail. It’s very interesting that it’s all over the major newspapers, and they are doing nothing about it. This is a man who works with youthful students very closely.”

Plock, 63, was no longer employed at the university as of Oct. 10, the day he was arrested, said Dominic Scianna, the school’s assistant vice president for media relations. Scianna said he could not comment on how, or if, the university is discussing the issue with students.

“We’re cooperating fully with authorities in Colorado and the NYPD,” Scianna said.

Police said Plock, who had been a campus minister and lived on the St. John’s campus in Queens, e−mailed the Webcam images of himself masturbating to someone he believed to be a teenage boy, though Detective Mark Michieli of the Adams County, Colo., sheriff’s office was the one who actually received the videos.

The detective had pretended to be a teenage boy as part of an online sting operation.

Plock was arraigned at Queens Criminal Court Friday night and released on $150,000 bond, which Scianna said was paid for by members of the Religious Community of Vincentian Priests and Brothers. Plock was released on bond on the condition that he check into St. John Vianney Center, a residential psychiatric facility for clergy in Downington, Pa.

Former St. John’s student Alexandra Espinosa said she and her friends were shocked to hear about the arrest of the man students frequently referred to as “Father Charlie.”

“Father Charlie never gave off that vibe to me, ever,” said Espinosa, who worked at the school’s chapel with Plock from 2005 to 2007. “I used to alter serve for him when he’d do masses, and he was always really friendly, really laid back. Normally, you get the impression priests are strict, but he wasn’t like that. He was like another friend.”

The Catholic Church has been rocked by sex abuse scandals in recent years, and Espinosa said she never believed “all the stuff the Catholic Church was going through would happen to someone I know.”

“For everyone who’s Catholic, you have priests you look up to and view as role models, and when something like this happen, it’s really dishearten­ing,” she said.

The Rev. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, said the diocese’s prayers are “with the St. John’s community at this time.”

“Anytime a situation like this arises, it’s a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a tragedy for the entire church, for this priest, and we await the outcome of the investigation. If Father Plock has committed a crime, then he has to suffer the penalty of the law.”

Plock, who was ordained in the St. John’s founding order, the Vincentians, in May 1973, was also a board member at Covenant House, a nonprofit that shelters runaway teens. According to Covenant House spokesman Tom Manning, Plock has been suspended from the board.

Ivan Pereira contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Anna Gufstason by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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