Priest Pleads Innocent to Sexual Assault

By Milly McLean
United Press International
July 31, 1985

A Burrillville pastor, dressed in the Roman Catholic priest's traditional white collar and black suit, pleaded innocent Wednesday to sexual assault -- the third Rhode Island priest in a year to face those charges.

The Rev. Armand Ventre, 53, pastor of Our Lady of Good Help Church, was released on $10,000 personal recognizance bail for each of the three counts of second-degree sexual assault.

The tall, gray-haired priest is charged with sexual assaults on three boys at the church rectory and at his summer home in Glocester between 1981 and 1984.

Providence Superior Court Judge Thomas Caldarone Jr. scheduled pretrial motions for Sept. 25 and trial for Oct. 28.

On the advice of his attorney, John Sheehan, Ventre told reporters, "I can't make any statement ... other than I'm definitely not guilty."

Ventre, a priest at the Burrillville church for four years, has taken a leave of absence pending the trial's outcome.

The other two Rhode Island priests facing sexual assault charges are the Rev. William O'Connell, formerly of St. Mary's Church in Bristol, and the Rev. P. Henry Leech, formerly of St. Jude's Church in Lincoln.

"It's a number that stuns me," Norman Dakake, director of the Statistical Analysis Center of the Governor's Justice Commission, said of the three Rhode Island cases involving priests.

"All of a sudden it's happening. I don't recall it before. Then to have three happen, it's unbelievable. Three in a period of a year is an astonishing figure," Dakake said.

"There's very little data about professions as a whole," he said, referring to state or national studies breaking down crimes according to professions.

"But pertaining to the clergy, absolutely nothing. It's an extremely sensitive area."

Suda Prohaska, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said she also had no figures to put the three cases in perspective.


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