Priest Acquitted of Molest Charges

By Brian Fuller
United Press International
August 15, 1986

A Roman Catholic priest Friday was acquitted of sexually assaulting a retarded teenager, a day after a judge dismissed two other sex-related charges against him.

The Rev. Armand Ventre, 54, wept after Superior Court Judge John Orton III found the pastor of Our Lady of Good Help Church innocent in a non-jury trial.

"I knew I was innocent all the time," Ventre said. "It's brought me great hardship. It's going to take awhile to undo."

Ventre, wearing the traditional white clerical collar and black suit, displayed a small bell attached to string he said symbolized bells lepers wore during biblical times to warn citizens they were diseased.

"Somebody had made me a leper unjustly," Ventre said. "I'm laughing, but it isn't funny."

On Thursday, Orton dismissed two charges of second-degree sexual assault and simple assault that alleged Ventre sexually touched two former altar boys at the church. The judge said the state had not presented enough evidence to substantiate the charges.

Orton let stand one charge of second-degree sexual assault until Friday, when he acquitted Ventre of sexual contact with a mentally handicapped youth in the church rectory and on several trips to his Glocester cabin in 1984.

"I'm satisfied that (the boy) did not take the stand and intentionally lie," Orton said. "I'm not satisfied that the acts he alleged took place did in fact take place."

Ventre, a 29-year veteran of the priesthood who has been on a leave of absence during his legal struggle, said he would try to return to his parish as soon as possible. Providence Bishop Louis Gelineau is on vacation and unavailable to comment on Ventre's reinstatement.

The Providence Diocese has been stung by several cases in which priests have been charged with sexual assault. The diocese also has been sued for $14 million by a parent of one of the children assaulted by one of two priests convicted on sex-related charges.

During closing arguments, lawyer John Sheehan, who did not present a defense, said, "The boy, because of his intelligence quotient, was subject to suggestion. Father Ventre has pleaded not guilty. I suggest that he is not guilty."

Prosecutor Robert Craven argued the youth was confused when he contradicted his testimony during cross examination, and he had no reason to lie.

A grand jury indicted Ventre last year after another grand jury refused to charge the priest. The indictment was dropped just before Ventre was to go on trial in January because prosecutors said there was a defect in one of the charges. The charges were revived in February, and Ventre pleaded innocent.

Within the past year, two other priests in the Providence Diocese pleaded guilty and were sentenced for sexually assaulting young males. A religious brother and former principal of an all-boys school is awaiting trial on similar charges.


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