It’s not clear why, but on May 5, 2020, an admitted child-molesting cleric from the Diocese of Trenton (New Jersey) was released from prison after serving only about half of his original sentence for sexually abusing a child.
In 2017, Deacon Joseph J. Prioli was convicted in a Monmouth County Court on multiple counts of sexually abusing a child who was entrusted to his care. He pleaded guilty and, in September 2017, he received a sentence of five years for his admitted crimes. According to law enforcement, even before the criminal prosecution started, Prioli admitted to the current Bishop of Trenton, David O’Connell, that he sexually abused that victim.
But on May 5, Prioli was suddenly and quietly released back into the public after serving about half of his sentence. He does not appear on the New Jersey sex offender registry and, even after a yearlong evaluation, he may never appear on any public registry of sex offenders. It is unclear if Prioli is even under the supervision of a parole officer or if he was simply allowed to walk free. The Department of Corrections has issued no public statements.
We hope that Prioli does not molest again, but, except for those reading this blog on our website, almost no one knows that a dangerous convicted felon now walks free in the open. New Jersey Catholic Church officials have certainly made no such notifications to anyone.
On one hand, we at Horowitz Law are grateful that the terms of Prioli’s sentence forbid him from ever living in a house with children ever again, including with his own eight children.
On the other hand, we worry about those who are still vulnerable to sexual abuse – his other family members, his neighbors, and New Jersey Catholic parishioners who know Prioli through his church connections and may even believe he is innocent or ‘reformed’ and safe to be around children. We also worry about those families who have no idea that a sex offender with the charisma of a trained cleric and teacher lives or works near them.
Prioli was ordained a Permanent Deacon by the Trenton Diocese in 2005. Prioli was assigned to St. Catherine of Siena parish in Farmingdale and also served as a chaplain at the Christian Brothers Academy in Middletown for more than a decade. In his capacity as a Permanent Deacon at St. Catherine, he distributed Holy Communion, performed baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and also preached homilies during mass. As a chaplain, he led morning mass with the students and provided counsel to vulnerable teenagers in search of guidance.
Prioli also worked as a teacher at the Christian Brothers Academy for some time. The second photo above shows him in a CBA classroom in 1990.
Prioli’s status with the Diocese of Trenton is unclear. The Diocese has never publicly stated that it has severed ties with Prioli nor have Diocese officials ever suggested that they asked the Vatican to remove Prioli from the diaconate so he can never work in a Catholic parish leadership position again. This means that Prioli could still truthfully tell people that he is still a Catholic cleric and a former teacher, positions that might render him automatically trustworthy to some unsuspecting parents.
Prioli is now 52 years old. According to his Department of Corrections profile, he is 5’6” and approximately 200 pounds. His most recent mugshot (above) depicts him with facial hair that he may have since shaved off or modified.
Prioli resided in Howell, New Jersey, until the time of his arrest and may have returned to that area following his release.
We hope New Jersey journalists, citizens and Catholic officials will insist on learning why Prioli has been set free so early. And, even more important, we hope they’ll all spread the word about his whereabouts and his past, so parents will know to keep their kids away from him.
We believe it’s especially important that staffers in the Diocese of Trenton and at the Christian Brothers Academy sound the warning bell about Prioli, because they are the ones who elevated Prioli to positions of influence and reverence among the Catholic faithful, and with that comes access to vulnerable children and their trusting parents.
For more information, visit our profile on Deacon Joseph Prioli: /tag/joseph-prioli/
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Trenton. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a cleric in New Jersey, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused in the Diocese of Trenton now have legal options to recover damages due to a new law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse and assault. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse in New Jersey and nationwide. We can help.