Greece Priest Charged in Child Porn Case

By Gary Craig
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
March 10, 2005

There's no evidence that a Catholic priest accused today of possessing child pornography ever engaged in sexual contact with minors, according to federal prosecutors and his defense lawyer.

Federal prosecutors today charged the Rev. Michael Volino, 41, with interstate transport of child pornography and possession of child pornography. They allege that he had hundreds of images of child pornography on a computer.

Volino's lawyer, John Parrinello, said Volino intends to plead not guilty. At his first court apperarance Thursday, where a plea was not required, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman placed Volino under house arrest with electronic monitoring. Volino is staying at an individual's house while the Diocese of Rochester tries to arrange housing as he awaits trial.

Feldman also prohibited Volino from interaction with minors.

Parrinello said after the hearing that society, because of the allegations nationwide of priest abuse of minors, could be in an era of "priest-mania" with the public overly and unfairly suspicious of priests.

Volino is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, Parrinello said.

Volino stood quietly by Parrinello's side as the lawyer fielded questions from reporters in the federal courthouse lobby. Volino did not flinch or show emotion as Parrinello handled questions about the sordid accusations against him.

The child pornography was discovered by a technology specialist at the Diocese of Rochester who was repairing Volino's computer, according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Michael Preisser.

Officials at the Diocese then contacted authorities. Volino has been a priest at St. John the Evangelist Church of Greece, 2400 West Ridge Road, since 2002.

Among the Web sites Volino frequented were those titled "boys on your screen" and "boyhoodparadise," the affidavit alleges. Some images showed boys as young as 10 to 12 years old engaging in sexual activity, the FBI alleges.

The affidavit alleges that Volino told the FBI in an interview that he had been undergoing counseling for three years "seeking help on the sexual issues" but had not stopped looking at child pornography.

Volino said he "would never take his fixation to the level of touching underage boys,'' the court papers say.

Parrinello challenged the statements from the FBI, saying agents should have taped the interview.

"That's a spin put on it by the FBI," Parrinello said about the statements the FBI alleges Volino made.

Parrinello did acknowledge that Volino had undergone counseling, but he would not discuss specifics.

Some parishioners were disturbed by the criminal charges.

"I'm shocked," said Suzanne Wiederhold of Greece, and a member of St. John the Evangelist Church. "You don't like to think that way.

We have respect for our priests. And this isn't something that's human or respectful."

Volino, in fact, officiated at the marriage ceremony of Wiederhold's daughter.

"To me, he seemed fine," said Thomas Fien, who has attended the church since 1968 and whose two children were baptized and married there. "He was personable and upbeat."

Fien, who served as president of the parish before Volino arrived there, said he does not know Volino very well. He said Volino "is a Star Wars nut" because it was mentioned in one of his first homilies.

Volino previously served at St. Lawrence Church in Greece and St. Theodore Church in Gates, according to the Diocese. He is now on administrative leave and is not allowed to engage in public ministry.

In 1994, Volino was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after Gates police found him and two children firing a pellet gun behind a Gates home. A resident called police after the shots were heard.

Volino was not found guilty of the charges, and the file is sealed.

Parrinello said federal probation officials were aware of the incident and decided they were "of no consequence."

Mark Furnish, an Albany lawyer who alleges he was abused by a priest in the 1980s when he was a youth at St. John the Evangelist in Greece, urged the Diocese to take strong action.

In a statement, he said Bishop Matthew Clark should "go to St. John's parish and meet with parents and guardians of every student who attended the school while Fr. Volino was living there."

"We'll offer every possible means by which we can offer pastoral love and support for that parish,'' said Diocese spokesman Doug Mandelaro


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