Charges over Priest Shock Parishioners; 'Funny Anecdotes' Made His Points

By Mark Shaffer and Christina Lucarotti
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
February 6, 2003

The Rev. John M. Picardi regularly peppered his sermons with the importance of family values.

More reason, parishioners in Flagstaff and Scottsdale say, to be shocked by news that the popular priest has a history of sexual abuse allegations.

"He gave excellent, wonderful sermons that were motivating and inspiring," said Ethel Ulibarri, a member of St. Pius de Asis Church in Flagstaff, where Picardi is associate pastor.

"He'd use funny anecdotes to make his point, which always seemed to be about the importance of family values."

Picardi, 46, came into the spotlight this week after revelations that Bishop Thomas O'Brien accepted his transfer into the Phoenix Diocese even though he knew of the allegations.

While working for the Boston Diocese in 1992, Picardi was accused in public documents of raping an adult male youth minister. Three years later, after transferring to the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., he was accused of lifting the skirt of and fondling a 12-year-old girl. He underwent counseling for the incident with the adult. The New Jersey incident was never substantiated, but he was banned from working with children.

Picardi then transferred to Arizona, where he was assigned to St. Maria Goretti parish in Scottsdale from October 1997 to July 2001 before being transferred to Flagstaff. There have been no allegations of misconduct in Arizona.

He was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday while Phoenix Diocese officials review the case.

When Picardi was transferred to Flagstaff, the parish had been short one priest for a year, said Joe Montoya, a parishioner who said Picardi helped him set up a Bible study class.

Picardi performed daily Masses, funerals, baptisms, first communions and confirmations throughout Flagstaff, said Liz Archuleta, a lifelong member of St. Pius Church. He used his spare time to study Spanish and was accessible to Latino immigrant members of the church.

In Scottsdale, Alicia Aber described Picardi as a great guy and said she doesn't believe the accusations are true.

"With Father John you felt that any problem you had you could talk to him about," Aber said. "You could confide in him. You trusted him."

Russ DiFrancisca, who now attends Blessed Sacrament, also had a positive impression of Picardi through his ministry at St. Maria Goretti parish.

"He had a style about him that everybody enjoyed," said DiFrancisca, adding that Picardi's homilies were lively, humorous and relevant.

However, if either of the accusations were proven, DiFrancisca said Picardi should be taken out of ministry.

"That is a clear violation of his priesthood," DiFrancisca said.


Published ran 2/7/03: The Rev. John M. Picardi is a pastor at St. Pius church in San Francisco de Asis parish. The name of the church was incorrect in a story on Page B8 Thursday.


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