Accused Priest in Brazil, Claims Pedophilia Is 'Cured'
By Robin Washington
February 18, 2002
A priest who allegedly sexually abused boys at a Holliston boarding school years ago - and in at least one case, reportedly beat a child who resisted - has spent decades as a missionary in Brazil where he considers himself "cured," according to church officials and a former student.
The alleged victim, a student at the Xaverian Missionary Faith High School more than 40 years ago, charged in a 1993 suit that the Rev. Mario Pezzotti repeatedly roused him from his bed to molest him and hit him if he tried to flee.
"He used to take me out in the middle of the night. If I tried to get away from the sexual encounters, he'd smack me, grab my arm and pull me back to him," he said.
In a handwritten note before the lawsuit, Pezzotti apologized to the former student and said he had requested a missionary post in Brazil to start a new life. "Upon my arrival in Brazil, confiding in God's mercy, I owned up to the problem. With divine help I overcame it," he wrote. "Each day I pray for those I have hurt in the past."
Yet the alleged victim, who settled the suit for an undisclosed sum and asked that his name be withheld, said he doubts the priest was cured.
"That man was a psychopath. He's down there in the Amazon. How safe are the people down there that don't know anything about him?" he said.
He also said an official of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, which ran the school until its 1971 closure, told him of three similar complaints. The Rev. Ivan Marchesin, a priest at the order's main U.S. mission in Wayne, N.J., yesterday acknowledged two of those. "When the thing surfaced, the fathers in charge offered all the help they could," he said of counseling offered to alleged victims.
Marchesin said Pezzotti, who was ailing a year ago, has been in Brazil for years but he is not sure of his present whereabouts. Yet the order's Web site includes an article by Pezzotti and its newsletter mentions a "Father Mario" working with the Amazonian Kayapo tribe. Of reasons for Pezzotti's sexual abuse, Marchesin said, "It must have been a moment of his own weakness. He's been of great service (in Brazil). The reports that we receive are extremely positive. He's learned from that and put it to the best use in his own life."
Yet his alleged victim said the ordeal had the opposite effect on his life. "I'm 57 years old and to this day I can't sleep without a TV on," he said, charging the abuse began after he arrived at the school in the late 1950s as a discipline case.
He charged other priests knew what was happening and did nothing.
"Father Mario's favorite thing was first thing in the morning to go to (another priest) and give confession and start each day fresh. Father (Francis) Signorelli also could not have not known. I was running around bawling and depressed all the time," he said.
Signorelli, the superior priest at the order's Our Lady of Fatima Shrine at the school site, did not return calls for comment on the abuse, which the former student said ended when he fought back. "One night I threw a fire extinguisher at him and hit him. It went down the stairs and stuck in the wall, broke the sheetrock. Everybody was up in the middle of the night and he had to explain all that," he said.
"When I finally left there, I told my mother partly about it. I got another cuffing for that. 'Priests don't do that,' she said.
"I seriously was pretty depressed. I had a few attempts at suicide. Two screwed-up marriages."
While Xaverian Fathers officials don't deny the charges, some alumni expressed shock at them.
"You're kidding," Marc Belhumeur of Gorham, Maine, who attended the school in its final year, said of Pezzotti, who he recalled as a "straight shooter."
"He certainly had opportunities. He used to take six or seven of us, boys and girls, out to the lake. Nothing ever happened that I knew about."
Another former student expressed similar disbelief, but said, "If somebody is a pedophile, they need help. The thing that's most distressing is people have settled cases and they've hushed them up. It's a bad situation."
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