Man Cries Accusing Ex-Priest of Abuse

Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
June 11, 1999

A 25-year-old man wept yesterday as he told of being sexually assaulted as a teenager, but never looked across a courtroom at the former Roman Catholic priest he claims attacked him.

Defendant Michael Santillo watched intently as the witness recounted two sexual encounters that allegedly occurred in 1987 when he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy.

In one incident, the priest invited the altar boy and several of his friends to his living quarters at the church, showed them pornographic movies and gave them money after encouraging them to participate in a sex contest, the man said.

He broke into tears and forced a recess to regain his composure when he said Santillo asked the altar boy and his cousin to perform oral sex on him.

When they refused, he said the priest asked "if he can perform oral sex on us . . . It ended up happening."

The testimony was offered in a pretrial hearing in which Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman is being asked to consider which portions of testimony from several youths may be presented to a jury when the former priest's trial starts in New Brunswick next week.

Santillo has denied wrongdoing. The allegations stunned parishioners in nine New Jersey communities who knew the clergyman before he left the priesthood to care for his sickly parents.

His attorneys, Thomas Fischer and James Porfido of Washington Township, have called the allegations fabrications.

The court day ended before they had a chance to cross-examine the alleged victim, but they said they will explore inconsistencies in his statements when he resumes his testimony Tuesday.

The altar boy, now married and the father of two, was brought to the witness stand yesterday by Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Anthony Scarpelli to corroborate the testimony of two witnesses who also say they were sexually assaulted by the priest.

The defense is seeking to prevent those two from testifying before a jury, asserting their claims would prevent Santillo, 49, from receiving a fair trial.

One witness, now 26, appeared humiliated as he reluctantly recounted events he claimed occurred in the priest's living quarters.

He said he was 13 or 14 when Santillo showed him and other boys pornographic movies, offered alcohol, and allowed him to rest when he became intoxicated.

He said Santillo massaged him and began removing the boy's clothes as he protested.

"I told him again, 'Please, stop.' He told me, 'Don't worry. I'm a priest. I'm not going to hurt you."

The man fought back tears as he said Santillo "performed oral sex on me."

On cross-examination, the witness said he continued to accept money from Santillo, asserting he would simply stop by the church and collect cash, no questions asked.

"I told him if he didn't give me money, I would go to the police," the witness said.

Another witness, identified as a 25-year-old Perth Amboy man, calmly said he witnessed a sex game for money. At one time, Santillo offered him money to expose himself and when he refused, the priest grabbed him by the crotch, the witness said.

On cross-examination, he insisted he had no intention of suing Santillo or the church. When he once mentioned suing the priest, he said he only meant he was looking to incarcerate Santillo, but never wanted money.

Santillo was not accused of assaulting those two men because the time period to file allegations lapsed before they revealed the alleged assaults.

The most dramatic testimony came from the former altar boy, who said the attacks ruined his life and led him to years of heroin abuse.

The man said he was pressed by his suspicious mother into disclosing the alleged incidents.

"I was really, really high and I just got tired of hearing my mother ask over and over again if he had done anything to me," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.