Smithfield priest on leave after sexual-assault allegation

Providence Journal [Providence RI]

February 3, 2022

By Tom Mooney

The Diocese of Providence has placed a Smithfield priest on administrative leave following an allegation he sexually abused a minor sometime around 1979 or 1980, said a diocese spokesman Thursday. 

The Rev. Francis C. Santilli, pastor of St. Philip Parish in Greenville, has been banned from exercising public ministry or residing on church property pending the outcome of an investigation, the diocese said. 

The announcement Thursday came about after the diocese received an email complaint on Dec. 29 from a relative of someone claiming to have been abused by a priest in active ministry – without identifying the alleged victim, perpetrator, or circumstances, said diocese spokesman Michael F. Kieloch. 

The diocese opened an investigation and made attempts to contact the complainant, as well as communicated with the Rhode Island State Police.

The state police were able to contact and interview the alleged victim on Tuesday, said Kieloch. 

The diocese learned of the allegations from the state Wednesday afternoon “and took the actions described in our statement this morning.” 


Attorney General Peter Neronha said Thursday that his office had determined that a criminal prosecution of Santilli wasn’t possible because the relevant statute of limitations has expired. 

“Nevertheless, given the seriousness of the allegations and the accused priest’s current duty assignment, we yesterday forwarded the information we had obtained to the diocese, and asked the diocese to advise this office of the steps it intended to take in response. The diocese advised us, and the public, of that action today.” 

In a released statement the diocese said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin had accepted the resignation of Santilli as pastor of St. Philip Parish and that the diocese is “cooperating fully with law enforcement.” 

Santilli was ordained a priest in 1980 and was assigned pastor of St. Philip Parish on July 1, 2010.

Bishop Tobin has appointed the Rev. Phillip J. Dufour, previously assistant pastor, as administrator pro tem of the parish.  

“Allegations of sexual abuse by clergy, even if they occurred decades ago, always must be taken seriously,” the bishop said in his statement. ”I will be praying for all who are involved and affected by this difficult news.” 

The diocese said it was encouraging anyone who knows of, suspects, or has been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a church employee or volunteer to contact the Office of Compliance at 401-941-0760 or or the Rhode Island State Police or Office of the Attorney General. 

Email Tom Mooney at: or call, 401-277-7359View Comments