Diocese Settles Abuse Claims

By Tom Mooney
Providence Journal

August 31, 2008

Three lingering cases of alleged priest sex abuse that forced the Diocese of Providence to open some of its decades-old secret files concerning allegations of clergy misconduct have been settled in principle, a lawyer says.

And a fourth case, filed by two sisters on behalf of their dead brother, has also reached agreement in the last several weeks.

Pending court approvals, the four plaintiffs or their estates will split a settlement offer from the diocese of $1,326,000. The individual payoffs range between $100,000 and $400,000 each, said Carl DeLuca, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“There is no amount of money that is going to make it right,” said DeLuca. “It is more an issue of validation. And in that sense, they feel validated.”

Marc G. Banville, Donald Leighton and Christopher Young sued the diocese beginning in 2003 after they failed to reach settlements with the church in 2002, as had three dozen other alleged victims of clergy abuse.

The men claimed that they had been molested by three different priests years earlier and that church leaders had engaged in a pattern of covering up allegations of abuse.

Young, of Woonsocket, alleged that he was molested by the Rev. John Petrocelli, of Holy Family Church in Woonsocket, starting when he was in elementary school and flunked his test to become an altar boy in the mid-1980s.

Banville, who now lives in Florida, charged that he was molested by the Rev. Roland Lepire at St. Matthew Parish in Central Falls in the early 1980s. Lepire was one of the priests accused by another victim in one of the cases the church settled in 2002.

Leighton alleged he was molested by the Rev. Daniel M. Azzarone Jr. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was around 13, when Azzarone worked at St. Clement Church in Warwick and St. Paul Church in Cranston. Azzarone went to prison in 2005 for raping two altar boys at St. Mary Church in Cranston in the early 2000s.The fourth plaintiff, who lawyers declined to name, had allegedly been abused by the late Rev. Robert Marcantonio in the 1960s at St. Mary School in Cranston.

Superior Court Judge Nettie Vogel, who was assigned the cases, ordered the church to turn over records reflecting its knowledge of allegations against the priests. She also ordered the diocese to produce information regarding accusations against any cleric dating back to 1971.

What church officials and lawyers found in those secret files began finding its way into public view by way of various court motions the lawyers filed with the court.

Last fall, the group, which tracks cases of sexual abuse, used documents filed in the Young case to publicly charge that the diocese had greatly underreported the number of priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct in recent decades.

The group said the diocese had reported in a national survey that 56 priests had been accused of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, while the figure the diocese used in the Young documents was 125.

The diocese described the disparity in the numbers as “a difference in reporting criteria.” It noted that the national survey pertained only to “plausible and credible” allegations while in the Young case, Judge Vogel ordered the diocese to produce “any notice of any allegation against any priest” whether that priest was living or dead and “regardless of whether such allegations were credible … withdrawn or ultimately found to be false.”

Further dissemination of clergy information was not the reason why the diocese decided to settle now, said James Murphy, one of the lawyers representing the diocese and the Most Rev. Bishop Thomas Tobin.

“I think it was a mutual thing. The plaintiffs wanted to sit down and talk. The bishop wanted to get these things resolved. I think everybody thought it was time to sit down and talk about the case.”

This latest settlement brings to more than $15.8 million what the diocese has paid out since 2002 to alleged victims of clergy abuse.


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