Ex-Priest Denies Guilt in Assault on Teenager

By Jim O'Neill
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
September 19, 1997

A not-guilty plea was entered yesterday on behalf of an ex-priest accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old altar boy in Perth Amboy 10 years ago.

Michael Santillo, 48, stood quietly as his attorney entered the plea in New Brunswick during the former clergyman's arraignment on four counts of sexual assault and child endangerment.

Santillo, who worked at nine parishes throughout central New Jersey during his career, answered affirmatively when Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman asked if he understood the charges.

"Do you have any questions?" the judge asked. "No, your honor," Santillo whispered in reply.

Santillo, who remains free on $50,000 bail, left the courtroom quickly after the brief hearing, and declined to comment. His attorney, Thomas P. Fischer of Washington Township in Warren County, said his client is "very anxious to defend himself."

Fischer said Santillo, now a resident of Schenectady, N.Y., has kept a positive outlook, attributing that to support among parishioners who knew him years ago.

Santillo was indicted in May by a Middlesex County grand jury after the former altar boy, now 23, contacted police in April, claiming he had been sexually assaulted in 1987.

The grand jury charged that Santillo, while serving as pastor at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy, had assaulted the boy on several occasions in the priest's living quarters. The alleged victim's identity has been withheld by police, who said he would not discuss the case with reporters.

Santillo taught at a Catholic high school and served as a priest at various parishes in New Jersey. After nearly 17 years, he resigned in 1992 to care for his ill parents in Florida.

He moved to Schenectady last February to work as an administrative aide at a local parish. He was arrested and charged last month.


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