Sex-abuse Cases Involving Rhode Island Priests

By G. Wayne Miller
Providence Journal
November 21, 2014

Lawyer Kevin Bristow asks for bail and an extra day to surrender Barry Meehan's passport during Meehan's arraignment in Superior Court, Providence, on Friday.

The Rev. Louis E. Gelineau is named bishop of Providence, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.


The Rev. P. Henry Leech, an assistant pastor at St. Jude’s Parish in Lincoln, is arraigned on five counts of sexual assault on teenage boys.


Feb. 15

The Rev. William C. O’Connell, pastor of Bristol’s St. Mary Church, is charged with sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy. Six felony charges are eventually brought.

Oct. 6

After pleading no contest, Father Leech is sentenced to three years at the Adult Correctional Institutions. He tells a Superior Court judge that therapy helped him recognize that he himself was a childhood victim of sexual assault. “Now I understand why this has happened and swear to you and to all here present that this action will never happen again,” he says.


After additional police investigation, Father O’Connell is sentenced to a year in an ACI work-release program after pleading no contest to 26 counts of sexual contact with three boys.


March 17

In civil lawsuits, the Rev. James M. Silva is accused of sexually molesting three parochial school students between 1968 and 1970, when he was assigned to a Newport parish.

Nov. 9

The Rev. Joseph A. Abruzzese, assistant pastor of St. Anthony Church in North Providence, is charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy and exposing himself in Providence’s Roger Williams Park.


July 13

A statewide grand jury indicts Father Silva on a count of second-degree sexual assault against an 18-year-old man in 1991.

Sept. 23

Father Abruzzese pleads no contest to one count of sexual assault and is sentenced to five years’ probation. He is ordered to undergo counseling.


On the eve of his trial for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man in August 1991, Father Silva changes his plea from not guilty to guilty. He receives a seven-year suspended sentence and is ordered to undergo counseling.


Bishop Gelineau retires as head of the Diocese of Providence. Some 50 state and federal lawsuits involving about a dozen Rhode Island priests remain in the courts. “The suits allege Bishop Gelineau and other church leaders covered up or failed to act when instances of sexual misconduct by priests were brought to their attention,” The Providence Journal reports.


Sept. 9

Bishop Robert E. Mulvee announces that the Diocese of Providence has reached a $13.5-million settlement in 36 sexual-abuse lawsuits. Mulvee tells a news conference: “I reach out with deep sadness to the victims. Certainly in the name of the church, I ask their forgiveness and offer an apology for the harm that has been done to them.”


The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, the so-called John Jay Report, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is published. From 1950 to 2002, the report found, about 4 percent of priests in Rhode Island had been accused of sexually abusing children. Fifty-six priests were the subject of 162 allegations.


The Providence Diocese announces that the Rev. Kevin R. Fisette has resigned as pastor of Pawtucket’s St. Leo the Great Church following a “credible allegation” of sexual abuse of a child more than 20 years before. He is suspended from performing public ministry and placed on administrative leave pending a review by the Vatican.


Jan. 12

Through Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, the head of the Providence Diocese Bishop Thomas J. Tobin announces that the Rev. Barry Meehan has resigned as pastor of Warwick’s St. Timothy’s Parish and been placed on administrative leave following a “credible” allegation of sexual misconduct decades before involving teenage boys. The diocese reports the allegations to the state police.

Feb. 25

The diocese reports that Monsignor John C. Allard has submitted his resignation as pastor of two Woonsocket parishes following a “credible allegation” of sexual misconduct with a minor two decades before. The diocese says that Monsignor Allard “has expressed profound remorse for the harm he has caused” and takes responsibility for his actions.


Nov. 21

Father Meehan is charged with five counts of first-degree sexual assault dating to 1986, 1991 and 1992.









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