Diocese defends transfer of priest to Narragansett

The Independent [Narragansett, RI]

August 4, 2022

By Ryan Blessing, Staff Writer

A priest accused of asking sexually inappropriate questions to children in a parochial school in Cranston has been assigned to a Narragansett church starting this month.

The move by the Diocese of Providence to place Father Eric Silva in an assistant pastor position at St. Thomas More effective Aug. 15 has drawn criticism from local parents and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national group.

According to media reports, Silva, previously an assistant pastor for St. Luke’s Parish in Barrington, was placed on leave from that position in February. Parents had complained that, while as a visiting priest at a Catholic school in Cranston, Silva asked the questions to students.

“The Diocese of Providence received several concerns from parents of students at Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School in Cranston that Rev. Eric Silva made errors in pastoral judgment while administering the Sacrament of Penance there earlier this week,” the diocese said in a statement at the time.

An unnamed parent told WJAR Channel 10 that Silva had asked male students if they were gay and accused them of lying when the boys answered no. Silva also allegedly asked female students if they were sexually active and accused them of lying when they denied it.  

“The Church takes seriously the responsibility confessors have to exercise prudence, discretion, and attentiveness to the age of penitents during confession,” the February statement from the diocese said. “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.”

This week, Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin issued a statement supporting Silva.

“Father Eric Silva is a fine priest and I am confident that he will serve his parish community very well,” Tobin said. “Father Silva has done everything we have asked him to do, I trust him completely, and it’s time for him to get back to work.”

In a statement released Monday, SNAP said it is aware that there has been no allegation that Silva committed sexual abuse.

“We do know that these probing words by a cleric, to any child or adult, reek of grooming patterns,” SNAP said. “It is no surprise to us that Bishop Tobin quietly placed ‘Fr. Eric’ back on the job.”

The Narragansett parish includes St. Thomas More Church and the St. Veronica Chapel.

An August schedule for St. Thomas More and St. Veronica lists Silva as “Fr. Eric,” while listing other priests and clergy by their last names.

SNAP also noted that Tobin has been scrutinized for his involvement in handling the transfer of suspect priests when he worked as Vicar General and General Secretary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“As should every parishioner and member of the Rhode Island community, we are concerned that Bishop Tobin has not revealed any information on Silva’s ‘inappropriate behavior.’” SNAP said. “Countless times in the past, Catholic officials have placed suspended priests back into parishes, only later having to remove them again when additional accusations are reported. We are concerned that this history could repeat itself in the Diocese of Providence.”

This week, Diocese of Providence spokesman Michael F. Kieloch released the following statement:

“Regarding the assignment of Fr. Eric Silva to Saint Thomas More in Narragansett, we published that assignment in the Rhode Island Catholic newspaper and online on July 14. As was shared in our statement on Father Silva in February, Fr. Silva accepted temporary administrative leave which afforded him time for pastoral study and reflection. It was always intended to be a temporary leave. Upon completing the additional formation asked of him, Fr. Silva was given permission to return to active ministry in July and has been assisting at parishes around the diocese. He is now prepared for a more stable assignment and will become Assistant Pastor at Saint Thomas More in Narragansett effective August 15.”