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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Priest Jailed in Crucifix|Attack Claims Defamation

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (CN) - A defrocked priest who says he was arrested for stabbing a fellow brother of the cloth with a crucifix says in court that the claims are fiction.

Frank Hreno filed the seven-page action on Jan. 16 in Morris County Superior Court against Emeka Okwuosa and the Vocationist Fathers, a Catholic religious order also known as the Society of Divine Vocations, of which both men are a member.

The complaint uses the honorific "father" before both Hreno and Okwousa's names, but it is unclear whether they are fully ordained priests.

A website for the Florham Park, N.J.-based society says it provides free religious education for "candidates who wish to dedicate themselves to a life of service to the Lord."

Hreno says in his civil filing that he has been a Vocationist Fathers member since 1997 and claims to have held various positions with the group, including mass card director, retreat director and head of building and grounds.

Okwuosa was allegedly transferred to the facility in April 2013 and ever since then "has consistently harassed and threatened Hreno," according to the complaint.

Specifically, Hreno claims that on various occasions, Okwuosa spit in his face, pinned him against the wall, took Hreno's checkbook and wrote checks to himself, damaging cars at the facility that Hreno is authorized to use, and used Hreno's credit card without his authorization.

Hreno also says that Okwuosa tried to undermine him within the organization, "conspiring amongst members of the Vocationist Fathers Communities worldwide and the members of the General Council in Rome, Italy" - actions that Hreno says ended in his removal from a three-year "Superiorship term" one year prematurely.

Tensions allegedly came to a head in April 2014 when there was an altercation between the two men, following which "Okwuosa accused [him] of criminal wrongdoing, which resulted in [his] arrest."

Specifically, the complaint says "Okwuosa advised the police and repeated to members of the media, such as CBS News and the public, that Hreno had chased him and stabbed him in the arm with a four foot crucifix and threatened to kill him."

Media reports reveal that Hreno was indeed charged in a criminal complaint after a dispute with Okwuosa over a car. Okwuosa reportedly told police that Hreno attacked him with a 4-foot crucifix that he swung through a glass door.

It was also reported that Okwuosa sustained a wound during the altercation that required 29 stitches. Hreno reportedly maintained during the criminal case that Okwuosa hurt his arm by smashing it himself against a glass door.

The criminal case was resolved earlier this month when Hreno was accepted into a Pretrial Intervention Program.

Hreno's lawyer in that case, Peter Gilbreth, told the Daily Record of Parsippany that the one-year probationary program includes counseling and that he expects to seek to expunge the charge six months after Hreno finishes the program.

Conclusion of the criminal case has apparently failed, however, to return normalcy to Hreno's life. The Whippany resident says Okwuosa's defamatory statements led the Diocese of Paterson to revoke "Hreno's priestly faculties, which prevents [him] from celebrating mass publicly and administering the sacraments in that diocese."

Hreno also says that he "is also unable to exercise his priestly faculties anywhere in the world, since he will now be unable to obtain a letter of 'Good Standing.'"

The assault allegations Okwuosa lobbied on him were false and "Okwuosa knew them to be false when he made them," according to the complaint.

In accusing the religious order of negligence, Hreno notes the failure to address his longstanding complaints "to his superiors at the Vocationist Fathers of Okwuosa's harassing, unlawful and inappropriate behavior towards him for some time."

"They have refused to take any action to alleviate the situation or to otherwise properly supervise Okwuosa," the complaint states.

Neither Okwuosa nor the Vocationist Fathers returned to multiple requests for comment on the allegations.

Although Hreno says in the complaint that he has taken a vow of poverty, he also says that Okwuosa's conduct has caused him "losses, such as loss of entitlements as a member of the Vocationist Fathers, including food, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, auto transportation, and education privileges."

Hreno seeks punitive damages for defamation, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by Gerald Resnick of Roseland, N.J.

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