Allegations of sexual abuse trailed John Capparelli, a former priest, for decades, resurfacing in the years after the Archdiocese of Newark removed him from ministry. There were the lawsuits from accusers, and last month his name was included on a list published by the Roman Catholic Church in New Jersey that identified priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
On Saturday, Capparelli was found fatally shot in his home in Nevada, and the authorities there said that his death was being investigated as a homicide.
The police said that officers found Capparelli’s body in his kitchen after being sent to do a wellness check at his home in Henderson, Nevada, a city of 300,000 people just outside Las Vegas, where he has lived for the past few years.
A representative for the Clark County coroner’s office said Tuesday that Capparelli, 70, had a single gunshot wound to the neck and that the medical examiner had ruled his death a homicide.
In a statement, the Henderson Police Department said that investigators have not identified a suspect but were “following up on developed leads” and cited “suspicious circumstances” surrounding his death. Police officials declined to elaborate beyond the statement, and said that the investigation was continuing.
Capparelli had been included with nearly 200 other priests and deacons who were named last month by the Catholic dioceses in New Jersey as having been credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. The disclosures joined a flood of lists released in recent months by Catholic dioceses and religious orders across the country in response to the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Church.
The Newark archdiocese said that Capparelli, who was ordained in 1980, served in several parishes and schools before he was removed from ministry and later defrocked. In a statement Tuesday, the archdiocese said that it had “no information concerning Mr. Capparelli’s death or any investigation related to his death.”
Capparelli had worked at Our Lady of Fatima in North Bergen; Oratory Prep in Summit; Holy Trinity in Westfield; St. Theresa in Kenilworth; and Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, according to the list from the archdiocese.
The reported allegations against Capparelli took place while he was still in the priesthood, but they continued to emerge in the years after he left the ministry in 1992. The Star-Ledger, the newspaper in Newark, covered him extensively, reporting in 2011 that he had been hired as a math teacher at a public high school in Newark. He later quit teaching and moved to Nevada. For several years, Capparelli operated a porn website featuring young men wrestling, The Star-Ledger reported.
Capparelli had been accused in lawsuits of groping teenage boys, asking them to wrestle and photographing them in compromising positions while wearing swimsuits. He had never faced criminal charges related to the allegations, nor had he ever publicly acknowledged any wrongdoing.
One of his accusers, Rich Fitter, said he had been raped by Capparelli as a teenager after meeting him through a Catholic after-school program in Union County, where the priest ran a wrestling club. Fitter said Capparelli recruited young men “with a certain look” — clean cut and athletic — for the club, befriending them and taking them to the movies or out for pizza. He made the boys wrestle in Speedo swimsuits, saying that they risked getting caught on loose fabric and injuring themselves, Fitter said.
“He’d be hovering over you, snapping all these pictures,” Fitter, now 52, said, “and then he’d say ‘Let me help you with some of the moves,’ and then he would actually get out on the mat with you.”
Over time, Fitter said, the priest “got more possessive and things got weirder.” He started to pull away from Capparelli, and that is when the priest raped him, Fitter said.
“The world is a better place and a safer place now,” Fitter said.
He added, “Part of me is angry that I am never going to get an apology or an admission from him, that what he did was wrong. But nobody else is going to be hurt by him and that is a good thing.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.