‘Maybe I could have stopped this’: Newport man claims he was abused by former RI priest

East Bay

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Joe Ruggeri had always wanted to become a priest.

“I was so enamored [by] the Catholic faith that I became an altar boy,” the now 61-year-old Newport resident said. “Some kids think about when they’re six or seven years old being a firefighter or a soldier or something. At that age, I was thinking about being a priest.”

But that all changed the day he met James Silva.

“It was on a camping trip where he molested me,” Ruggeri recalled. “I was nine or 10 at the time and, you know, I didn’t really discover or have full cognizance of what happened to me until I was older.”

At the time, Silva was serving as a parish priest at the Newport Catholic school Ruggeri was attending.

“I remember feeling ashamed. I remember feeling afraid. He told me, in so many words, that I couldn’t tell anyone else what happened,” Ruggeri said.

Ruggeri said his life hasn’t been the same since the alleged abuse.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety that still comes and goes,” he said. “I’ve been hospitalized several times for depression. I’ve had a suicide attempt … It’s cast a shadow over things.”

Ruggeri said he didn’t come forward with his story until the 1990s when he was in his 30s.

But by that time, it was too late.

Silva, 81, was indicted by a statewide grand jury Tuesday on two counts of first-degree child molestation and nine counts of second-degree child molestation.

The indictment, unsealed following Silva’s arraignment in Providence Superior Court, accuses the former priest of sexually assaulting a male victim under the age of 14 between 1989 and 1990.

In 1993, Silva was removed from the priesthood and pleaded guilty to a second-degree sexual assault charge in 1995. He received a seven-year suspended sentence.

In the 1990s, Ruggeri joined a group of other alleged victims and filed a civil complaint against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which was settled in 2002.

When asked what he thought of the indictment, Ruggeri said, “I thought it was about time.”

“He’s never had to really answer to his crimes,” Ruggeri said.

Still, Ruggeri struggles with wondering whether he could’ve prevented Silva from abusing others if he’d told his story sooner.

“How many people suffered because of that?” Ruggeri said. “Part of me was thinking, ‘Gee, if I had just said something back then, maybe I could have stopped this from happening.,”

In a statement, the Diocese of Providence said Silva was on its list of Credibly Accused Clergy, which was made public in 2019.

“As we have for many years, the Diocese of Providence remains committed to fully cooperating with law enforcement and the attorney general,” Diocese spokesperson Michael Kieloch said.

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