Lawsuit accuses Providence Diocese of ‘victim blaming’ in clergy sex-abuse complaints

Providence Journal [Providence RI]

May 20, 2022

By Katherine Gregg

A newly filed lawsuit by one of the alleged child molestation victims of recently suspended Smithfield priest Francis C. Santilli accuses the leaders of the Rhode Island Catholic Church of “victim blaming” while disregarding multiple accounts of sexual misconduct by “Father Frank.”

The lawsuit was filed Thursday against current and former Bishops Thomas Tobin and Louis Gelineau of the Catholic Diocese of Providence, and the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Atwells Avenue in Providence.

What began as the tickling of a 10-year-old sitting on the priest’s lap allegedly turned into sexually explicit actions by the priest — and a previously unnamed church organist.

In his painfully graphic lawsuit, Scott Ross, who turned 53 on Saturday, says he lived for decades with “anguish, guilt, shame, denial [and] confusion.”

Asked what prompted him to tell his story at this point in his life,  Ross — who now lives in Oregon and works for the U.S. Department of Energy as a contract specialist — told The Journal: “This week marks the 25th anniversary of my brother David’s suicide.”

Ross said his sister, Michelle Ross, “felt a powerful need to honor David’s memory on this significant anniversary year.”

He said his brother, too, had also been an altar server at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Providence, and “we know that David’s [own] history of sexual abuse” by the same perpetrator “among others” affiliated with the church “was a contributing factor in choosing to end his life.”

Ross said his sister “brought to my attention that in the past, there were other victims of Santilli who had come forward to report their abuse, yet somehow, he remained in active ministry and with access to children.”

Only then did he learn that Santilli had been accused of sexually abusing at least two  and possibly three other children, and that the diocese had chosen to dismiss the accounts as “not credible” while moving Santilli.

Having spent much of his childhood “traumatized” and “petrified” that his parents would disown him if they found out, and his adulthood thinking nothing he could do would make any difference, Ross said, “I am doing it now because I want some measure of accountability.

“The fact that this diocese had credible [evidence] of prior sexual abuse at the hands of this one priest — at least two, if not three, prior instances going back 10 years — and they took no action … and kept him in ministry with access to children, I find that morally bankrupt, morally reprehensible, and someone needs to be held accountable.”

With the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution expired, “this is the only mechanism I have to hold anyone accountable,” he said. 

“This is not a money grab. This is not to exact a pound of financial flesh, but if the Catholic Church and the Diocese of Providence speak one language and that language is money, then I am going to go ahead and hit them where it hurts … [in] the slim hope that I might help others.”

He told his story to the Rhode Island State Police on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 3, the Diocese of Providence confirmed that it had placed Santilli, the pastor of St. Philip Parish in Greenville, on administrative leave following an allegation he sexually abused a minor sometime around 1979 or 1980.