Parishioners at Saint Leo Hold Vigil for Popular Priest

By Delia Goncalves
November 27, 2007

On a raw and rainy Monday evening in Little Italy, the faithful filed into Saint Leo's Catholic Church with umbrellas and heavy hearts, to pray for Father Michael Salerno.

Rosa Aquia has been a parishioner more than 50 years and says no one has done more for the church or the community than Father Mike. "Please God, bring back my son, he's my son. Somebody has stolen Father Mike. He's innocent. He's an angel," she cries.

No one has had contact with the priest who was removed from the church November 18th, after a New York man accused him of sexual abuse back in Brooklyn during the 1970's.

Nick Diliello says Father Mike has been close to his family and late father for many years. He says, "If the allegations are true it seems to me this guy is going after for some kind of money, I don't know."

"But if it was, he was very young and people make mistakes and we're supposed to forgive people," adds his sister Lillian Sigler.

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So after their prayer inside the church, parishioners gathered outside where they lit candles, walked and sang; hoping their many signs of support will help heal the community and help heal their hearts.

"I want him to come back before I die. Please bring (him) back," begs Aquia.

Father Salerno has been in Baltimore 10 years. He has not been charged with any crime.

Parishioners at Saint Leo in Little Italy held a vigil Monday night. It's in response to the departure of the church's popular priest. Father Michael Salerno has been banned from celebrating mass while the church investigates allegations of sexual abuse.

A man in New York has come forward, claiming he was sexually abused by Father Salerno when he was a teen back in the 1970's.

"I'm sick over it, Lucy Pompa, who has been a member of the parish for 60 years told abc2 news. "We don't believe it. I'm 100% behind Father Mike. No matter what."

Parishioners tell us they felt through their grief, they had to do something. That's why they're holding a candlelight vigil.

"Our community will come together tonight at Saint Leo's church," Anita Manna said.

"Father Mike will be in our prayers as will others who need our prayers."



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