‘my Intention Is to Pursue Truth’: Child Sex Abuse Victim of Convicted Brighton Priest James Gillette Encourages Other Survivors to Come Forward
By Jackson Cote
January 7, 2020
Anthony Sgherza was 10 years old when he was first sexually abused by a priest. The 58-year-old said he is now seeing justice nearly a half century later.
James Randall Gillette, a former Catholic priest at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Brighton, was sentenced to five years of house arrest last week for sexually abusing two children in the 1970s, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office said in a statement.
One of the victims in the criminal case was Sgherza, who said he is still processing Gillette’s prosecution.
“I’m 48 hours removed from having remained silent for 42 years,” Sgherza told MassLive. “Right now, I’m just trying to feel my feet on the ground and breathe and be present with this plethora of emotions.”
Gillette pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Jan. 2 to two counts of unnatural and lascivious acts on a child for offenses committed when he was a priest in Boston, according to Rollins’s office.
The 77-year-old man must wear a GPS monitoring bracelet until the end of his sentence, register as a sex offender, undergo sex offender treatment and stay away from the survivors and any witnesses in the case, the statement said.
He must also have no one-on-one contact with any child under the age of 18 unless the minor’s parents are present, Rollins’s office said.
His attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding his sentencing.
“It can take decades for victims to make the decision to come forward about sexual abuse, as is what happened here,” Rollins said. “The defendant used his position of trust and authority to ingratiate himself to his victims and their families in order to gain access to vulnerable targets for his sexual abuse. Even more horrific, he used religion as an entryway into these children’s lives, potentially forever altering their faith.”
Sgherza, who now lives in Philadelphia, was a parishioner at St. Michael’s in Union City, New Jersey in 1971. He said he was sexually abused by Gillette multiple times in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York between the ages of 10 and 13 years old, when the former priest was working at St. Michael’s and St. Gabriel’s.
One of the incidents took place in Boston after Gillette allegedly took Sgherza to the city for a Red Sox game and sexually abused him during the trip, according to Sgherza. Gillette was a friend of his family, and it was easy for the former priest to gain access to him at a young age, he said.
“He groomed the family as well, no doubt,” Sgherza said.
Gillette was ordained in 1971 in the Passionist religious order. He worked at St. Michael’s from 1972 to 1974 and at St. Gabriel’s from 1975 to 1978. He served in other parishes in Pittsburgh and Mexico City as well as across New Jersey and New York until 2019. The former priest also did foreign mission trips in Honduras, according to a record of Gillette’s assignments provided by Sgherza’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.
Garabedian said he is currently representing another victim of Gillette in a different civil suit. The survivor was allegedly sexually abused as a 16-year-old in the ‘70s when Gillette was assigned to St. Gabriel’s.
“Out of the gate, in 1971, he starts abusing,” the attorney said.
Sgherza settled a civil claim through the Archdiocese of Boston’s compensation program in 2015, Garabedian said. He also submitted a complaint in New York and spoke with New Jersey’s attorney general.
The Philadelphia resident said he copes with his trauma with the support of his friends, family and other survivors of sexual abuse. He also engages in routine self-care, including exercising and journaling. Sgherza hopes his story encourages other victims to come forward.
“Evil has an opportunity to exist when good people remain silent,” he said. “I intend to be a good person.”