Barrington priest barred from Cranston parish after reprimand over confession questions

Providence Journal [Providence RI]

February 13, 2022

By Katherine Gregg and Alex Kuffner

The pastor of a Cranston parish said he has barred a Barrington priest from working there again after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence reproached the priest for errors in judgment while hearing confessions from schoolchildren at the parish last week. 

At the end of Mass on Sunday morning at Immaculate Conception Parish in Cranston, The Rev. Edward J. Wilson Jr. told congregants that Father Eric Silva, associate pastor of St. Luke’s Parish in Barrington, would not be allowed back again after parents complained that he asked inappropriate questions of children during confession. 

“At this point going forward, there is nothing more that I can do,” Wilson said. “It is in the hands of the Diocese. But as a pastor, I can do one thing. I am not going to allow that priest to come back to this parish or to our school.” 

‘Errors in pastoral judgment’

He did not specify what Silva said to the schoolchildren during the incident, which occurred Tuesday at Immaculate Conception Regional Catholic School. But according to NBC 10 News, an unnamed parent said Silva asked male students if they were gay and accused them of lying if they said no. Female students were asked if they were sexually active and similarly accused of lying if they answered in the negative, according to the TV station. 

The Diocese said Silva made “errors in pastoral judgment.” 

“The Church takes seriously the responsibility confessors have to exercise prudence, discretion, and attentiveness to the age of penitents during confession,” the Diocese said in response to a Journal inquiry. “The errors were addressed with Fr. Silva who deeply regrets any unintentional distress he caused to individual students and the community at large. The Sacrament of Penance should always be an occasion for the faithful to experience God’s healing mercy and peace through which God gives us the strength to begin anew.” 

St. Luke’s Parish addresses complaints

Silva celebrated Mass at St. Luke’s Parish on Saturday evening, but beforehand Rev. Timothy Reilly, pastor of the parish, spoke to the congregation about the controversy, describing Silva as “contrite” and urging those assembled to “please continue to pray for Eric and all those involved and to be fair; remember that right now these are allegations.” 

“There’s a story [from] those who were in confession,” Reilly said. “And, of course, Father Eric’s story, his side of the story. So please try to bear that in mind.” 

Asked after the Mass whether there was any discussion of Silva leaving the parish, Father Reilly said no. He said he expects word from the Diocese “on what the next steps are.” 

Asked if he had received any complaints from parents in Barrington before the controversy surfaced in Cranston, Reilly said: “No, nothing here at all. I’ve been here two years with [Father Eric] and nothing at all. He’s a fine energetic priest, young, dedicated, works hard.” 

Had parents expressed any concern to him? “I’ve heard nothing yet,” he said, while acknowledging he had been busy and had not checked his email in a while. 

After the service, Silva stood outside the church. He declined comment, saying Reilly had said what needed to be said. When pressed, he told The Journal, “I regret the uproar that it has caused.” 

Wilson said that he asks only priests he knows well to hear confessions from children at Immaculate Conception school. After one of them couldn’t make it last week, another priest recommended Silva as a last-minute replacement.   

When parents complained about Silva’s behavior, Wilson contacted the Diocese. The school also sent a letter to parents notifying them of the situation. 

“Now, I do not like to bar people,” Wilson said on Sunday. “I believe in forgiveness and mercy. That’s what we’re all about as Christians. But there are some transgressions that demand a person be barred for a period of time. And as long as I’m pastor here, that priest is not allowed to be here.”