Football and mass are synonymous with Sundays in New York Giants country, where a priest is in hot water for allegedly pointing a gun at an 8-year-old Cowboys fan - even though witnesses say it was all a joke.
The Rev. Kevin Carter -- pastor of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Little Ferry, N.J. -- was arrested Friday and charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child for pointing the firearm at the boy. Carter is expected to be arraigned Tuesday on the charges, which one witness called "fallacious." The move came after the Newark Archdiocese notified Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli on Sept. 28 that a parishioner at the church contacted the archdiocese about alleged incident, which had occurred 12 days prior.
"My concern, at this time, is more for the young boy and his family than it is for myself."
- The Rev. Kevin Carter, accused of pointing a gun at a boy
Molinelli said his office launched an investigation which found that on Sept. 13, the boy -- who has not been identified publicly -- came to church for Sunday services with his family.
"Prior to the mass beginning, Father Kevin Carter asked to see him in one of the rectory rooms," Molinelli said in a statement. "Once in the room, Father Carter had the victim stand against a wall. He then retrieved a long gun from nearby and pointed it at the child with an indication that he would shoot him."
"This was witnessed by several individuals that were standing outside of the room," the statement said.
But the alleged assault has been called into question by other witnesses and Carter himself, who said the incident was nothing more than innocent "jesting" -- and who said he is concerned for the child's welfare in the wake of the arrest and publicity.
"My concern, at this time, is more for the young boy and his family than it is for myself," Carter, 54, said in a statement to FoxNews.com Monday. "I am confident that I will be vindicated and that my reputation will not be harmed among the people who know me. I will be OK."
"I am concerned about the young parishioner. I know he and his family came to the rectory on Sept. 13, to have good natured fun about the football game scheduled later that day. I also know that nothing that day put him in fear," said Carter, who is also a police chaplain. "I am concerned that these charges and their attendant publicity has potential for trauma for the child and his family."
"I am also concerned about the parishioner who misinterpreted the event of Sept. 13," he added. "As her pastor, I do not want her to suffer any harm, and I ask all members of the parish to be loving to her and to share my concern for her."
Molinelli said his office's Special Victims Unit launched a joint investigation with the Little Ferry Police Department. After being interviewed by detectives, Carter's room at the rectory was searched and authorities found the musket in question as well as gun powder and ammunition, Molinelli said.
The weapon was found to be a functioning Civil War-style musket, according to Molinelli, who charged Carter with one count of fourth degree aggravated assault by pointing a firearm and one count of third degree endangering the welfare of a child. Bail was set at $15,000. Molinelli reportedly told NorthJersey.com that Carter should not be given special treatment because he is a priest.
Richard Fritzky, an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, was quick to defend Carter, saying the exchange between the pastor and the boy was "good humored fun."
"I was in the rectory at Saint Margaret de Cortona in Little Ferry visiting Father Kevin Carter at the very moment that the incident with the Civil War era rifle, the young 8 year old boy with the Cowboys Jersey and the alleged threat took place," Fritzky said in a statement released to FoxNews.com.
"I can definitively state that the only reason the rifle was in his hands at all was because, fellow Civil War buffs that we are, he brought it down to show it to me and was in the process of taking it back upstairs, when the boy and his parents or parent, I assume, came walking through the long hallway or entrance to the rectory from the church," said Fritzky, who claims he was sitting at a round table in the room to the right of that hallway's end.
"I could clearly see Father Kevin to my left and what I witnessed and heard was this: he feigned being struck and hurt that anyone would dare come into his home with Cowboys colors on and he loudly and good naturedly teased the boy, who had quite apparently come to do
the same to Father Kevin," he said. "It was all loud and good humored fun and nothing but, as everyone involved, including the boy, was clearly laughing. In fact, boisterously so."
Fritzy claims he did not see Carter raise the rifle or threaten anyone. He said when he heard of the arrest, "I deemed it to be impossible, for what rational person could ever possibly have leveled such a fallacious charge or conjured up such an image of what was an absolutely harmless event funny."
According to a bio on the church's website, Carter has been pastor since 2013. He helped oversee the church's restoration after Hurricane Sandy in 2011 and also worked as a police chaplain in several New Jersey towns, including Little Ferry, Moonachie and Jersey City.
On Monday, Mark Bederow, a criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor, roundly criticized Molinelli's investigation and the pending charges.
"A priest 'arguing' or bantering with a child about a football rivalry while holding a Civil War musket certainly presents bad optics," Bederow told FoxNews.com. "But this pales in comparison to how bad it looks for a prosecutor to hastily arrest a well-regarded priest for serious felonies, immediately issue a press release, and then use Twitter to almost beg the media to interview him about the arrest."
"No rational person believes this priest, whose alleged misconduct appears to stem from an odd sense of humor and an intense dislike of the Dallas Cowboys—a common sentiment in northern New Jersey—exhibited indifference to human life, is a threat to the public welfare and should be treated as a felon facing state prison," he said. "Surely, many will see the prosecutor’s claim of 'no preferential treatment' as a basis for the quick arrest as a weak justification for an attempt to attract and exploit media attention."
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.