Diocese nixes plan to transfer controversial priest

The Independent [Narragansett, RI]

August 12, 2022

By Ryan Blessing

After a wave of public outrage including daily protests by a local man, the Diocese of Providence this week halted plans to assign to Narragansett a priest accused of asking  inappropriate questions to children.

The Rev. Eric Silva was slated to start next week, Aug. 15, as an assistant pastor at the Roman Catholic St. Thomas More parish. The Narragansett parish includes St. Thomas More Church and the St. Veronica Chapel.

That was before a backlash both locally and from a national group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, when the latter published information about Silva’s removal from two other diocesan churches and a forced leave of absence.

The diocese said Friday that Bishop Thomas J. Tobin rescinded the appointment after he received written requests to do so from Silva and from Father Marcel Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More.

“It is with a heavy heart that I realize my presence there will only hurt the parish and cause division amongst the good people of God,” Silva said in his request.

The diocese went on to say that while Silva “retains the priestly faculties of the Diocese of Providence, he will not be receiving a new assignment at the present time.”

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 serving as a visiting priest at a Catholic school in Cranston, Silva asked the questions to students.

The diocese heard from parents of students at Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School in Cranston that Silva “made errors in pastoral judgment while administering the Sacrament of Penance.”

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.  

Last week, Tobin initially issued a statement supporting Silva. But news of the planned assignment in Narragansett drew an outcry, with members of the public speaking out online and at the local Town Council meeting.

One man, Ryan Brophy, stood daily last week outside St. Veronica with a sign that said the church protects pedophiles. Brophy, as first reported in the Boston Globe, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  

Last week, those who stopped to offer support to Brophy, a 35-year-old father employed at his family’s business, Brickley’s, said he has received both encouragement and threats from passersby.

Among the supporters were State Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee and her sister, Ann Hagan Webb. Webb is a survivor of childhood clergy abuse and has worked with McEntee and testified in favor of legislation to increase the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases.

Brophy planned to continue his protest daily before Friday’s announcement came from the diocese.

At the Saturday afternoon Mass on Aug. 6 at St. Veronica, Taillon told congregants he was sorry for “the hurt and the anguish” the parish experienced over the past week.

“I’ve been listening to so many of you regarding your concerns, your fear and in some cases anger,” he said. He called it “the most excruciating week for my priesthood.”

He went on to explain how on June 7, all priests in the diocese received an e-mail stating that Silva was available for ministry.

With Rev. Jose Parathanal leaving the parish, Taillon said he asked Silva to cover an occasional daily Mass and some of the summer Mass schedule.

“Fr. Eric was in many parishes all over the state, including St. Thomas More,” he said.

At that time, Taillon did not know Silva would be assigned to St. Thomas More, he said. That decision from Tobin came in mid-July.

On July 23, Taillon personally introduced Silva at Operation Loreto, a faith retreat. Neither shared information about Silva’s background or the leave then.

Taillon said no parishioners nor statewide visitors expressed concerns to him until last week.

He also pushed back at criticism that the parish was trying to hide Silva’s past by how it addressed him.

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

“Fr. Eric’s name was listed as Fr. Eric because that is what people call him,” Taillon said, noting that Parathanal similarly was addressed as “Father Jose.”

Taillon said that Silva had planned to publicly address his leave during his first full weekend of Masses, and that he would have also published a letter in the parish bulletin.

“Then this week happened,” Taillon said.  

After media reports about Silva’s past, Taillon met with Silva last Thursday and expressed that, “I thought it would not be good for him to come to us, and also not for him. He immediately and humbly offered not to come.”

Upon seeing the statement by Taillon, Brophy responded online.

“Zero mention of children. Zero accountability,” Brophy wrote Saturday. “Total whitewash of the entire situation. I am disgusted but not surprised.”

A day earlier, he said the experience has been difficult for his entire family, and shunned the word “hero” being used by some to describe him.

“I am grateful for all of the support I have received. Just know that this brought up a lot of hurt for my loved ones,” he wrote.

After Friday’s reversal, SNAP issued a statement.

“While we applaud the decision of Bishop Tobin not to allow Fr. Silva to return to parish work, we are not commending the Bishop himself,” it said in part. “Fr. Silva should not have been on a list for reassignment in the first place, as he had been removed from active ministry for asking inappropriate questions of children. We believe that any ‘investigation’ done solely by diocesan-employed investigators is suspect and that better results are achieved by independent, secular investigations.”