Onetime R.I. Priest Arraigned on New Charges
Thousands of Photographs of Young Boys, Some of Them Naked, Found in the Home of William C. O'Connell, Form the Basis for the Additional Counts

Providence Journal-Bulletin [Rhode Island]
July 13, 1994

Former Rhode Island priest William C. O'Connell was arraigned in a New Jersey courtroom yesterday on 19 additional charges stemming from alleged offenses against young boys in the beach community of Lower Township, N.J.

O'Connell, 72, former pastor of St. Mary Church in Bristol, pleaded not guilty in Lower Township Municipal Court to 13 counts of obscenity, 2 counts of child endangerment and 4 counts of sexual contact, township Detective Sgt. Jack Trombetta said.

O'Connell, who was not represented by a lawyer, is being held at Cape May County Jail on $ 150,000 cash bail, Trombetta said.

Police arrested him last Wednesday, at his small, shingled bungalow, on one count of sexual assault against a 12-year old boy. He pleaded not guilty to that charge the next day.

Inside the bungalow, police found thousands of photographs of young boys from the Lower Township area, some of them naked and some of them in sexual poses. The photographs, which O'Connell allegedly took, were the basis for the additional charges brought this week.

So far, police have identified three boys in the photographs, Trombetta said. They have asked parents to call them if they think their children may have known O'Connell, a request that has brought in more than 50 phone calls since the end of last week, he said.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a second priest was charged by Lower Township police for allegedly joining Father O'Connell in pornographic activity. The Rev. Thomas Kohler, 52, has been charged with one count of obscenity, but he is currently hospitalized in Pennsylvania, and police have been unable to arrest him, Trombetta said.

Kohler has a house a short distance from O'Connell's and on at least one occasion he was involved with O'Connell in taking "suggestive photographs," Trombetta said.

Kohler, whose last assignment was as a chaplain at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament infirmary for nuns in Bensalem, Pa., is reportedly in a psychiatric hospital in Downington, Pa., Trombetta said.

R.I. offense

O'Connell moved to New Jersey in the late 1980s after pleading no contest in 1986 to sexually abusing three Rhode Island boys, for which he served one year in a prison work-release program. Bishop Louis E. Gelineau suspended the priest's authority to perform ministerial duties immediately after his arrest.

O'Connell has been supplementing his pension from the Diocese of Providence with freelance photography work for a local weekly newspaper, Trombetta said.

O'Connell is still the target of four lawsuits pending in state and federal courts in Rhode Island. The lawsuits were brought by men who allege that O'Connell molested them when they were growing up.

A prior lawsuit, brought by one of the three boys whom O'Connell admitted molesting in 1986, was settled in 1990 for an undisclosed sum.

O'Connell's arrest has shocked his Lower Township neighbors, Trombetta said. "They thought he was a normal guy," he said.


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