Mother Warned Church about Accused Priest
But the Police Could Not Substantiate Elizabeth Leighton's Claim of Abuse against Her Son
By Jonathan D. Rockoff
March 20, 2002
Long before a Roman Catholic priest was arrested last November on charges of molesting a teenage boy, a Warwick woman told the Diocese of Providence that her son had been abused by the same priest in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the church said yesterday.
A top church official did not tell Bishop Robert E. Mulvee about the woman's allegation, made in either in 1998 or 1999, since the authorities had been unable to substantiate the claim.
The Rev. Daniel M. Azzarone Jr. denied the allegation, and there weren't any witnesses who could corroborate it, the diocese said. The Warwick police investigated, but Father Azzarone was not charged.
Donald Leighton, the priest's alleged victim 20 years ago, is a patient at a state mental-health facility diagnosed with schizophrenia, his mother said.
Leighton's mother, Elizabeth, blames her son's mental illness on the alleged sexual abuse, which she believes took place in the late 1970s or early 1980s when her son was 13 or 14, while Father Azzarone worked at St. Clement Church in Warwick.
Leighton and church officials talked about her son's case as the diocese faces 38 lawsuits alleging its officials covered up thousands of cases of child sexual abuse by a dozen clergy in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Leighton has not filed a lawsuit. An interview with Leighton was arranged by Timothy J. Conlon, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Last November, in an unrelated case, Father Azzarone, now 51, was charged with multiple counts of first-degree sexual assault. Cranston police accused him of molesting a 16-year-old boy over the past year. Father Azzarone, who was suspended by the church after his arrest, was released on bail.
According to the diocese, church officials first received an allegation against Father Azzarone in 1985, when the state's child-welfare department notified them that the priest was accused of abusing Leighton.
The state Department of Children and Families and the Warwick police investigated, but couldn't substantiate the allegation, the diocese said.
In 1999, the diocese said, Elizabeth Leighton repeated the allegation to Robert McCarthy, a church official who investigates sexual-abuse complaints. She said McCarthy met a few times with her and her son's counselors.
The discussions ended, she said, with McCarthy informing her that there wasn't enough evidence to stand up during a trial.
"I was very emphatic that I wanted Azzarone away from children I didn't want him harming anyone else," Leighton said yesterday. "Secondly, I wanted help for Donald." Leighton recalled going to McCarthy in 1998.
In the interview, she said her son, now 36, has only told her that Father Azzarone had kissed him. She said some of his counselors told her that Daniel had been abused by a priest, but they didn't name the priest. She assumed the priest was Father Azzarone.
William Halpin, the spokesman for the diocese, did not know whether any church officials warned Father Azzarone after the investigation.
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