Priest Gets Probation after No-Contest Plea to Sex-Assault Count
The Rev. Joseph A. Abruzzese was accused of fondling a 16-year-old boy in Roger Williams Park

By Bob Jagolinzer
Providence Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
September 24, 1994

Providence - The Rev. Joseph A. Abruzzese, former assistant pastor at St. Anthony Church in North Providence, yesterday pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree sexual assault.

Superior Court Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer sentenced Abruzzese, 35, to five years' probation and ordered him to participate in counseling. Also, he was ordered not to have any contact with his victim, a 16-year-old boy, and agreed to pay the cost of any counseling the youth might require.

The no contest plea was the result of a plea bargain worked out between Abruzzese and the attorney general's office, said Stephen White, spokesman for Atty. Gen. Jeffrey B. Pine.

Abruzzese was arrested last November, following an incident Oct. 29th in Roger Williams Park.

According to a police report, Abruzzese, who was dressed in a blue jumpsuit, approached the boy and asked him if he wanted to make some money. The boy said no.

The youth said Abruzzese grabbed his buttocks and genitals. When he tried to get away, Abruzzese tightened his grip and exposed himself.

The youth, who worked as a groundskeeper at the park, broke away and ran back to the greenhouse. He told fellow workers what happened, and they took down the license plate on Abruzzese's car. Police traced him through the registration.

Abruzzese was suspended from his priest's duties shortly after his arrest, said William Halpin, a spokesman for the Diocese of Providence.

He said the case will be reviewed by the Most Rev. Louis E. Gelineau, bishop of Providence, who will decide whether Abruzzese will be allowed to resume his duties. However, Halpin said, it was "unlikely" that would happen.

Despite the suspension, Abruzzese remains a priest, unless he is relieved of his priestly vows by the Vatican. But for that to happen, either Abruzzese or the bishop would have to request it, Halpin said.

Abruzzese did not make a statement during his brief court appearence, said his lawyer, C. Leonard O'Brien. "He's just thankful for the opportunity to put this behind him," O'Brien said.

Abruzzese decided to plead no contest, O'Brien said, because he wanted to put the incident to rest "with a minimum of pain for everyone involved, including the young man" he assaulted.

O'Brien also said the incident had "nothing" to do with Abruzzese's duties as a priest. The youth was not a parishioner of the church, he added.

Abruzzese not alone

Abruzzese is one of several priests in the state who have been involved in legal cases because of alleged sexual misconduct.

Halpin said Abruzzese is one of at least three priests who have faced criminal allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. William O'Connell, former pastor of St. Mary Church in Bristol, pleaded no contest in 1986 to 26 charges of having sexual contact with three teenage boys. He served a year in a work-release program.

A charge of second-degree sexual assault is pending against the Rev. James M. Silva, who allegedly molested youngsters at four parishes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Silva and O'Connell also are among seven priests who are being sued in state and federal court for alleged molestations during the last 30 years.


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