N.J. Priest Took Me to Disney World, Gave Me Alcohol and Molested Me, Lawsuit Says
By Anthony G. Attrino
December 7, 2020
A 51-year-old man is suing the Diocese of Metuchen and a long-dead New Jersey priest, claiming he was given alcohol and molested while attending Catholic school decades ago.
The lawsuit claims Father Michael Santillo, who died in 2000 at age 50, plied the victim with beer, groped him and took him on a three-day trip to Disney World, where he wanted to watch the student have sex with a prostitute.
Anthony P. Kearns III, who is the chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, said Monday he cannot comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Superior Court of Middlesex County, claims Santillo met the victim at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy while the victim attended elementary school there.
The priest allegedly groomed the victim for several years, creating “a culture and social dynamic” that weakened the student’s ability to resist Santillo, the lawsuit claims.
Santillo used his position and his residence in the rectory “to ingratiate and integrate himself” to the victim throughout elementary and high school, the victim claims in the suit.
In 1983, when the victim was a teenager, Santillo allegedly took him to the church rectory and gave him alcohol. Once he plied the student with “beer and other liquor,” he allegedly molested him, the lawsuit claims.
The priest also took the student on a trip to Disney World in Florida, where “Santillo again purchased and provided minor plaintiff with beer and liquor,” the suit claims.
After the victim drank alcohol, Santillo asked if he could watch the teenager “engage in sexual intercourse with a prostitute that Father Santillo would provide.” The teen refused, the lawsuit states.
While in Florida, the priest again allegedly groped and sexually abused the victim, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states Santillo left the ministry in 1992 but returned to work in at least one church as an administrative assistant until his arrest in the late 1990s.
Despite multiple complaints of sexual abuse, Santillo was never removed from his position within the diocese, the lawsuit states.
“Instead, Father Santillo’s reign of terror (was) propped up by religious authority,” which allowed him to abuse victims, the suit states.
Santillo, who was known as “Father Mike,” pleaded guilty in June 1999 to sexually assaulting a 13-year-old altar boy and molesting three of the teen’s friends in his living quarters at the church rectory in Perth Amboy.
A judge sentenced Santillo to serve 10 years in the state’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel for sex offenders.
Santillo died of lymphoma on May 10, 2000 at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, where he had been transferred from the sex-offender treatment center, according to published reports.
In addition to Santillo’s estate, the lawsuit names the diocese, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and St. Joseph Parish. The suit alleges gross negligence, along with negligent supervision, hiring and retention.