St. Agnes Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of...

St. Agnes Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A parish priest in Manorhaven has stepped down while law enforcement authorities investigate an allegation that he sexually abused a minor more than 40 years ago when he served in Suffolk County, the Diocese of Rockville Centre and officials said Monday.

The Rev. Steven J. Peterson, 71, has been serving as pastor at Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church in the village of Manorhaven. Diocese officials announced the move Sunday during Masses at the church, parishioners said.

Peterson could not be reached for comment.

The diocese has notified law enforcement authorities of the allegation, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said. The diocese is not aware of any other allegations against Peterson, Dolan said.

The Suffolk County district attorney's office learned of the allegation Saturday, said spokeswoman Sheila Kelly.

In Suffolk County, Peterson served at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in East Islip, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Babylon and the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Holbrook, the diocese said.

“We ask for your prayers during these days, which are difficult for all of those involved,” the diocese said in a statement.

The allegation, Dolan said, came to light through the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which accepts claims from those who were allegedly sexually abused by clergy as children regardless of how long ago the misconduct occurred. If a claimant accepts payment, he or she must agree not to sue the diocese.

At least three other priests in the diocese have stepped aside from their ministry as a result of allegations that surfaced through the program.

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