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Priest arraigned on harassment charges

The Rev. John Johnston, left, arrives Thursday to be arraigned for making harassing phone calls.
The Rev. John Johnston, left, arrives Thursday to be arraigned for making harassing phone calls.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A Roman Catholic priest arrested Tuesday for making harassing phone calls to another priest was arraigned Thursday.

The Rev. John Johnston, 64, pleaded not guilty.

When police searched Johnston's home after his arrest, they found $88,000 in cash, an unlicensed handgun, homosexual pornography and Nazi paraphernalia.

Johnston was arrested Tuesday on charges he made harassing phone calls to Brother Dennis Cronin at Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, New York. The criminal complaint released by Brooklyn Criminal Court Thursday describes the phone calls as highly profane. Bail was set at $1,000.

But Johnston remains in police custody pending arraignment in Queens on charges of criminal possession of a weapon, police said.

Johnston also was being investigated for "a series of cash thefts" from the St. Martin of Tours church in Bethpage, on New York's Long Island, a Nassau County police spokesman said.

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Church officials said Thursday they were opening an internal investigation into the matter.

Johnston's attorney, Joseph Stello, said Johnston is a World War II buff and also has British, American and Russian memorabilia. He said the gun is registered in New Jersey. He also noted that possessing pornography is not illegal.

Johnston taught religion, English and history for 23 years at the Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, New Jersey, before retiring in June.

Johnston never exhibited any strange or offensive behavior, said a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

"We knew nothing about guns or anything," spokesman James Goodness said. "We're entirely shocked. It is also very sad."

Though he taught in Newark, Johnston was a part of the Diocese of Brooklyn, where he was ordained in 1964, diocesan spokesman Frank DeRosa said.

DeRosa said the diocese has no record of any allegations, charges or complaints against Johnston.

"That's why it's a shock and we're stunned by the news," he said.

He said he did not know of any connection between Johnston and Bishop Loughlin High School.

Goodness said Wednesday that Oratory Preparatory School officials were drafting a note to send to students' parents and would make counseling available for anyone who needed it.

-- CNN correspondent Deborah Feyerick and senior producer Ronni Berke contributed to this report.


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