Ex-Priest to Fight Sex Assault Charges

By Jim O'Neill
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
August 27, 1997

A former priest who was returned yesterday to New Jersey will plead not guilty to charges of sexually assaulting an altar boy at a Perth Amboy parish 10 years ago, his lawyer said yesterday.

Michael Santillo, 48, "categorically denies these charges," said his attorney, Thomas P. Fischer of Washington Township in Warren County.

Santillo was being held at the Middlesex County jail after police picked him up in Schenectady, N.Y., where he was arrested Aug. 15.

He was arrested after a Middlesex grand jury accused him of four counts of assaulting the 13-year-old altar boy in 1987 while serving as pastor of St. Mary's R.C. Church in Perth Amboy.

The charges were filed after the alleged victim, now 23, complained to police in April.

Santillo was shocked by the allegations, his attorney said, adding, "He doesn't know who's making these charges. This is supposed to have happened 10 years ago. I would say it's very suspicious that someone would come forward after all this time."

Fischer, whose marriage was performed by Santillo nearly seven years ago, said the ex-priest is "very kind, intelligent and well-respected in the community." Middlesex Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Scarpelli, who presented the case to the grand jury, said Santillo is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 19 for arraignment.

Santillo served at nine parishes in New Jersey after becoming a priest in 1975. He left the priesthood in 1992 to care for his ill parents, church officials said.


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