Ex-Priest Charged with 4 New Molestation Offenses
Thomas Pagni III Now Faces 9 Charges Involving Two Boys. He Denies the Allegations

By Lynne Bumpus-Hooper
Orlando Sentinel [Florida]
June 10, 1995

A former Roman Catholic priest and mental health counselor accused of molesting boys was arrested on four new charges of lewd and lascivious behavior Friday.

Thomas Pagni III, 45, now faces a total of nine sex charges involving two boys he met through counseling.

The former Merritt Island resident was arrested in a Rockledge courtroom after he made a court appearance in the earlier cases.

Circuit Judge Frank Pound set bail on the new charges at $10,000. Pagni was expected to be released on bond by Friday evening. The charges involved alleged incidents of fondling a youngster and simulating sexual intercourse.

According to the charges, the assaults occurred in 1992 or earlier. The boy, now 17, was first abused when he was 11 years old, the charges say.

The boy's mother told the judge she did not understand how he could let Pagni walk the streets pending his trial.

"To let him keep walking around and doing this to other kids is a crime," she said. The Sentinel is not publishing her name to protect her boy's identity.

Pagni also is the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by Merritt Island attorney Sheldon Stevens. Centered on earlier charges of abuse against Pagni, it alleges that the Catholic Diocese of Orlando knew Pagni was molesting children while he was a priest.

According to the suit, the church removed Pagni from the priesthood in 1986 but financed his education to become a mental health counselor dealing with children and families.

The suit asks for damages from the church, several church officials and Pagni.

Pagni's attorney, Robert Pope of St. Petersburg, had scheduled an interview Friday with the boy named in the new charges because of his role as a witness in the earlier cases. That interview was delayed.

Pagni, a slightly built man, stood quietly in the courtroom Friday before deputy sheriffs led him away in handcuffs.

Pope said Pagni's defense is "that essentially no sexual activity took place."

According to the lawyer, the civil suit against the church had attracted more attention than it deserved.

"Mr. Pagni is a very, very quiet, intelligent human being who is concerned that the process going on here is placing a real strain on these young boys," Pope said.

Pagni is working now on Florida's west coast as a computer programmer, Pope said.

One factor in Pagni's defense is that the boy in the new case gave sworn testimony in the past that he had no sexual encounters with the counselor, Pope said.

Prosecutors said it is not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to deny the abuse at first.

"There are 20 years of complaints about Mr. Pagni and other adults are still coming forward, talking about being abused by him when they were younger," said Assistant State Attorney Meryl Allawas.

Allawas said the investigation of Pagni continues.


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