Ex-Priest Gets 10 Years for Child Sex Crimes

By Sue Epstein
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
November 16, 1999

A former priest was sentenced yesterday to serve up to 10 years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old altar boy in 1987 at the rectory of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy.

Michael Santillo, 50, of Schenectady, N.Y., was ordered by Superior Court Judge Barnett Hoffman to serve his term at the state's Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, where Santillo was examined several months ago and diagnosed as a compulsive and repetitive sex offender.

Santillo pleaded guilty in June to one count of aggravated sexual assault against one boy. With encouragement from the judge, he also admitted that he molested two other boys as well.

The assaults took place in October 1987 in his living quarters in the church's rectory while the boys were all students at the school attached to St. Mary's Church.

Santillo, who has been diagnosed with cancer, was charged with assaulting only one of the boys since the amount of time allowed by law to file additional assault counts had run out. Child victims have up to five years after their 18th birthday to file such charges.

Hoffman rejected pleas by Santillo and his attorney for leniency after hearing statements by three of the former priest's victims, who vented their anger at the defendant as he sat in the jury box.

"Why did you do what you did to me?" one of the victims screamed through tears as he confronted Santillo in a crowded New Brunswick courtroom. "That's all I have ever wanted to know from you. Why? Why can't I live a decent, regular life?"

The emotional outburst came as he and two other victims demanded a harsh prison term for Santillo, once a popular and respected priest who served in nine New Jersey parishes before leaving the priesthood to care for his sickly parents.

Hoffman imposed the prison term after psychological analysis determined that Santillo was a compulsive and repetitive sex offender. Like other sex offenders, the ex-priest is subject to Megan's Law, and must report his whereabouts to police when he is released.

The judge also said he doubted the sincerity of an apology served up by Santillo.

"I am not quite satisfied that the defendant shows true remorse," Hoffman said.

"This is a tragic case. Nobody will walk out of this court today a winner. I only hope there will be some closure for the victims."

Santillo's attorney, James Porfido, asked the judge for leniency so his client could continue taking care of his ailing parents in Florida as well as receive the chemotherapy he needs to treat lymphoma, a type of cancer.

Porfido told the judge, "I don't think he will ever commit another offense. He is too humiliated, too embarrassed and too scared."

He read portions of letters from former parishioners and former colleagues who described Santillo as "kind, generous, caring," and very good with children.

Before the judge imposed the sentence, his victims took turns unleashing their rage at Santillo after supporters of the ex-priest had their say.

"You have just heard how great a person this guy is," one victim said softly, commenting on letters from parishioners who stood by Santillo, stunned that he could have committed such crimes.

"My mother thought the same way," the young man said. "He took advantage of me and my parents. I've been committed to hell since."

The former priest stood looking sadly at the young man, but did not respond.

One victim described how he became withdrawn after the assault and developed a 10-year addiction to heroin.

"Now, my parents don't trust me," he screamed at Santillo. "My father won't look at me as a man because of what you did to me."

The victim's father recalled how he walked the streets of New York and Perth Amboy many times, "looking for my son, not knowing if he was dead."

Another victim told the judge, "every day of my life, I'm in pain," and the third young man said he didn't come forward after it happened because "I didn't feel like anyone would believe me anyway."

It was 10 years before one victim finally told his mother and his sister what happened, and they went to the police in 1997.

For his part, Santillo apologized to his victims and their families, adding, "I just want them to know these were the actions of just one man, and one priest is not the church."

"I want the healing to begin," he said.

Santillo was ordained in 1975 and served at nine churches in the Metuchen and Trenton dioceses. In Perth Amboy, he was also the administrator for the St. Mary's school system. He left the priesthood seven years ago to care for his parents.


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