Loudoun Now [Leesburg, VA]
June 6, 2023
By Norman K. Styer
Rejecting a probation-only recommendation derived from the commonwealth’s sentencing guidelines, Circuit Court Judge James E. Plowman today sentenced a former priest at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Purcellville to eight years in prison for the 1985 sexual assault of a teen at his parish.
Scott Asalone, 66, was 29 years old when he was a Capuchin friar working at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church and befriended the 14-year-old victim. That their relationship included sexual conduct came to light in 1992, when the victim wrote a letter to Asalone detailing the impact that abuse had on his life, including substance abuse and a lasting distrust of others.
After that letter, Asalone was transferred from the parish and the victim was awarded a civil settlement. According to a 2019 report of past sexual abuse allegations released by the Diocese of Arlington, Asalone was ordained in 1983, removed from public ministry in 1993 and dismissed from his religious order in 2007.
In 2018, Virginia State Police investigators contacted the victim as part of a broader investigation by the State Police and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office into allegations ofcriminal sexual abuse of children in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted such crimes.
On March 14, 2020, Asalone was arrested in Asbury Park, NJ, following an indictment issued by a Loudoun County grand jury as a result of that investigation.
Following Asalone’s arrest, then-DC City Councilman David Grosso issued a statement acknowledging that he was the victim in the case.
Just before the start of a planned five-day jury trial in the case in December, Asalone entered an Alford plea, acknowledging prosecutors have sufficient evidence to win a conviction but not admitting guilt.
The felony charge of carnal knowledge of a minor between 13 and 15 years of age carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Based on a psychological evaluation and Asalone’s lack of criminal history, the state’s sentencing guidelines recommended no incarceration for the crime that occurred 38 years ago.
During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Plowman heard testimony from psychologist Mark Hastings who conducted the evaluation. He found that Asalone presented a below average risk of recidivism and that there was no diagnosis of sexual deviance disorder or other mental health issues.
The sentencing consideration also was complicated by the commonwealth’s parole policies in place at the time of the crime—before the General Assembly abolished discretionary parole for felonies in 1995. A Department of Corrections representative was called to testify about the system that required first-time offenders to serve as little as 25% of their sentence and the workings of good behavior credits.
Prosecutor Phillip O. Figura, of the Attorney General’s Office, requested Plowman impose the maximum sentence, noting a 10-year sentence would be expected to result in less than five years in prison and as little as one year and eight months.
Defense Attorney Barry Coburn objected, saying it was “extraordinary” to seek a maximum sentence after Asalone had demonstrated his ability to change his life and had been a law-abiding, contributing citizen for decades.
“It was an abhorrent thing. He knows that,” Coburn said.
Grosso did not attend the hearing, but submitted a statement to be read to the judge.
He said his family moved to Purcellville, just two doors down from the Main Street church, after his father abandoned them and his mother had to sell their Lovettsville farm. He described “Father Scott” as the young, hip and cool priest. They played basketball together. The relationship shifted over time. The priest suggested they take showers together to save water. He started massages, which evolved into full body massages in his bed, and then to oral sex.
“I was only 14 and my family was in disarray,” Grosso wrote.
In the aftermath of that relationship, the victim said he struggled in school, quit sports and could not find success in life. He turned to alcohol and drugs and quit college to work in a DC bar. He continued to struggle as he wrote his letter to Asalone in 1992.
“You f—ed up my life,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Grosso noted, Asalone went on to a successful business career and a stable family life, marrying his husband 25 years ago.
“I can only imagine what I could do if Father Scott had supported me during the toughest years of my life,” Grosso wrote.
In addressing Plowman, Asalone said he has felt shame his whole life for his action. He said he was disappointed to be unable to apologize to Grosso in person. “I know I can’t say I’m sorry enough,” he said.
“That same day lives in me,” he said. “That one fatal moment. I hurt him permanently.”
Plowman wrestled with the impact the passage of time has had on the two men.
“This is a difficult case. There is a lot to balance here,” he said.
He said he believed Asalone was truly remorseful, in contrast to other defendants he encounters who regret getting caught.
However, Plowman said Asalone benefitted from escaping accountability for nearly 40 years. His life would have been different if punishment was handed down when he was in his 20s rather than in his 60s, Plowman said.
He also said it was hard to overlook the breach of trust by a community spiritual leader and its association with broader context of child sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church.
“There’s a balance that needs to be struck,” Plowman said before announcing his eight-year prison sentence.
Asalone was remanded into custody at the conclusion of the hearing.