Diocese: 50 RI priests, clergy ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing minors

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence on Monday morning released a list of 50 priests and other clergymen it says were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors since 1950.

The long-awaited disclosure adds Providence to the growing number of Catholic dioceses around the country that have publicly revealed the names of those who faced accusations of sex abuse deemed credible. Pressure to do so increased after last summer’s release of an explosive grand-jury report on abuse in Pennsylvania.

“The publication of this list is an expression of the transparency we want to encourage and the accountability we need to accept,” Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a video released along with the list.

The list is posted here. Of the priests and deacons listed, 31 are dead, and the remaining 19 still living have been removed from ministry, according to the diocese. The most recently removed was Samuel Turillo, now age 98, whose final assignment was Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick from 1979 to 1994. He was removed in 2016.

Many of the names are familiar, including Daniel Azzarone, who was sent to prison in 2005 for raping two boys at St. Mary’s Church in Cranston, and Laurence Gagnon, a deacon who admitted to molesting three students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in West Warwick in 2010 and 2011.

But other names are new. The list includes 17 individuals — four of whom are living — not currently included in the database of accused Rhode Island priests maintained by BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks the Catholic abuse crisis nationwide through legal documents, depositions and media reports.  

The diocese said retired Rhode Island State Police Maj. Kevin O’Brien, who leads the diocese’s Office of Compliance, “reviewed all diocesan files compiled over 70 years” and “ultimately exercised his own independent, expert judgment in determining whether to place particular clergy on the list.”

Explaining how “credibly accused” was defined, the diocese said O’Brien “included individuals on the list when he had a reasoned and grounded belief that the allegation was sufficiently supported based upon the presently available and developed evidence.”

A spokesperson said O’Brien was not available for interviews.

In a separate letter, Bishop Thomas Tobin added: “It should be strongly emphasized and clearly understood that the fact that a name appears on this list does not necessarily mean that the individual is guilty of having committed sexual abuse, unless the allegation has been otherwise proven or admitted.”

The time period covered by the list stretches over decades. The oldest priest listed, Charles Dolan, was born in 1904 and ordained in 1930; he died in 1977, before the diocese says any allegation of abuse was received. The youngest, Joseph Abbruzzese, was born in 1959 and removed from ministry in 1993.

A spokesperson for the state police confirmed the agency investigated the allegations against one of the men on the list — Kevin Fisette, removed from ministry in 2009 — and decided not to file criminal charges.

Two of the priests — Anthony DeAngelis and Peter Tedeschi, both deceased — are listed as “publicly accused” rather than “credibly accused,” which the diocese said was because the accusations against them “could not be verified or substantiated without any corroborating witnesses or facts.”

DeAngelis’s accuser is Ann Hagan Webb, sister of state Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, who was the driving force behind a law signed Monday to extend Rhode Island’s civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse from seven years to 35. Webb has said DeAngelis molested her from the ages of 5 to 12.

“Based upon [O’Brien’s] standards, process and procedure, the accused would not have been included on the list,” the diocese said of DeAngelis and Tedeschi. “However, each priest has been the subject of significant publicity at recent legislative hearings. This media coverage eroded the consideration given to reputational harm and warranted a separate category.”

Webb expressed frustration with the failure to deem her allegation credible. “I don’t like it,” she told WPRI 12. “It’s insulting.”

In his video, Tobin said, “The publication of the list of clerics credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors in years past is a difficult but necessary moment in the life of our diocesan church.”

The bishop said releasing the list publicly was important for a variety of reasons, including to demonstrate that Rhode Island’s Catholic hierarchy doesn’t “have something to hide.”

“We always ask our faithful to support us – personally, financially and spiritually – and in turn they have the right to know what the history of clerical misconduct has been, and to be reminded of the substantial efforts the diocese has made over the years to combat the plague of sexual abuse,” he said.

In an interview last December on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Tobin disclosed that the diocese had spent about $18 million over the years on settlements related to sex abuse, as well as an additional $2 million on counseling and other services for victims.

Under a “letter of understanding” with the attorney general signed in 2016, the diocese pledged to forward all accusations to three agencies: the state police, the local police department where the abuse allegedly occurred, and the attorney general’s office. It also established the Office of Compliance in 1993 to investigate allegations.

“For over two decades, every allegation of sexual abuse received by the diocese – regardless of credibility — is promptly and fully reported to law enforcement,” the diocese said on its website.

Attorney General Peter Neronha’s spokesperson, Kristy dosReis, said in a statement his office is currently “engaged in a review” of alleged sexual abuse by clergy. “Many such allegations have been made to law enforcement by victims directly,” she said.

“While release of this list is a step forward, we do not view it as the end of the process,” dosReis said. “This is a matter of critical importance to victims and to the people of the state of Rhode Island, and this office will take whatever additional steps we deem necessary to complete our review.”

Critics of the church’s response to the crisis say Tobin disclosed during a 2007 court deposition that there were 125 accused priests named in sealed church files at the time. The diocese has not responded to questions about that list.

“The idea that at least 75 people came forward who weren’t credible is ludicrous,” McEntee argued. “Instead, there’s thousands of people who aren’t coming forward at all because they’re too ashamed to even say it.”

Webb urged Catholics to take action. “Make your church accountable,” she said. “Stop giving them money. Find another church if you need to. Get outraged.”

Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, an organization that deals with sexual assault, said release of the list “may help some survivors finally see some validation in print of the incredible trauma they endured, and also realize that they were not the only ones abused by this individual.”

But Langhammer also questioned what was omitted from Monday’s release.

“The list omitted when the reports occurred, how many reports were made, and most importantly, what was the church’s response at the time an accusation was made,” she said in a statement. “Were the priests removed immediately, and/or were they simply moved to other parishes enabling them to assault more children?”

The nonprofit SNAP, short for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also said it welcomed release of the list but urged that more information be provided, including “when the [diocese] first received the allegations and what they did in response.” The group also called on the attorney general to open an independent investigation.

The diocese urged anyone who has been a victim of abuse or who is aware of such abuse to contact agencies such as the state police (401-444-1000). They can also contact the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator, licensed psychologist Michael Hansen, at 401-946-0728 or mhansen@dioceseofprovidence.org.

A spokesperson for the neighboring Diocese of Fall River said Monday officials there have still not completed their own list of accused priests.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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