Priest Pleads No Contest to Sex Charges Involving Church Volunteers

By David Pyle
Associated Press
August 20, 1985

One of three Roman Catholic priests charged in separate sexual assault cases involving boys within their Rhode Island parishes has pleaded no contest to eight counts.

Suda Prohaska, spokeswoman for Attorney General Arlene Violet, said today the state was ready Monday to begin the trial for the Rev. P. Henry Leech, 35, but that he entered the plea instead.

Ms. Prohaska, like Violet a former nun, said the plea was not part of any agreement with the state.

"Our office is recommending jail for Father Leech," she said.

Ms. Prohaska said Leech, who resigned as assistant pastor at St. Jude's parish in Lincoln after he was charged in October 1984, pleaded no contest to three counts of second-degree sexual assault, two counts of third-degree sexual assault, two counts of sodomy and one count of assault and battery.

Superior Court Judge John E. Orton III, who has ordered a pre-sentence investigation, will sentence Leech on Oct. 7, she said.

The whereabouts of Leech, who remains free on personal recognizance, could not be determined. "I have no comment," said his attorney, David L. Martin of Cranston.

Leech, a Pawtucket native and a former Eagle Scout, was charged with having sexual relations with four teen-age boys between November 1982 and April 30, 1984, at St. Jude's rectory, St. Joseph's rectory in Woonsocket and at an unspecified Smithfield location.

All four of the youths were described by police as volunteers at St. Jude's, St. Joseph's and St. Philip's in Smithfield.

Two similar cases involving Roman Catholic priests in the Providence diocese are pending.

The Rev. Armand V. Ventry, 53, pastor of Our Lady of Good Help Church in Burrillville since 1980, was indicted last month for allegedly sexually abusing three boys at a church rectory and at his summer home between 1981 and 1984.

The Rev. William O'Connell, 62, formerly of St. Mary's Chrch in Bristol, faces more than two dozen sexual-assault charges involving boys aged 13 and 15 at the church rectory and at O'Connell's summer home in South Kingstown.


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