Former Delaware Priest Charged with Child Rape Dies Months before Trial

By Xerxes Wilson
Delaware News Journal
July 25, 2018

John Sarro

John A. Sarro, a former priest with the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington indicted earlier this year on charges that he raped a pre-teen girl decades ago, has died.

Sarro died Monday, six months before a scheduled trial in New Castle County Superior Court. A spokesman for the Wilmington Diocese confirmed his death Wednesday.

He was accused of fondling and raping a girl who court documents indicated was younger than 16 years old between 1991 and 1994 when the abuse is said to have occurred. He was a pastor at St. Helena Parish in Bellefonte at the time.

Sarro was 76 when he was indicted on charges of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact in January. The crimes listed in his indictment were the law when the abuse is said to have occurred and were the precursors to Delaware's current rape statute.

He pleaded not guilty in February. With his death, those charges will be dropped, said Carl Kanefsky, Department of Justice spokesman.


The case marked the first time Delaware had brought criminal sex abuse or molestation charges against a Delaware Catholic priest despite a wave of abuse allegations involving 150 survivors of priest abuse and civil litigation in the early 2000s that ultimately forced the local diocese into bankruptcy.

When reached by phone in January, Sarro denied wrongdoing.

St. Helena Roman Catholic Church in Bellefonte. (Photo: Suchat Pederson, The News Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK)

"It was a simple matter of me being involved," he paused. "I wasn't really involved with anybody."

He later added: "It was something that happened by accident."

Declining to answer specific questions, he said the charges were "not based on what actually happened."

Attempts to reach Sarro's family following his death were unsuccessful.

Sarro was a priest in Bear and Bellefonte through much of the 1980s and 1990s. He was identified by diocese officials in 2006 as one of 20 local priests with "admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated" allegations of sexual abuse of minors against them.

John A. Sarro (Photo: UNDATED FILE PHOTO)

That designation was based on allegations from his missionary work in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s and is separate from his January indictment.

Sarro was removed from the ministry, prohibited from celebrating sacraments in public and barred from presenting himself as a Catholic priest when diocese officials learned of the abuse in Papua New Guinea in 1997, a spokesman for the diocese said in January.

In 2011, the diocese was notified of abuse allegations stemming from his time at St. Helena. Diocese officials said the adult survivor at the time declined permission for them to report the allegation to police.

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.








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