Former Perth Amboy Priest Who Molested Boy Dies

By Sue Epstein
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
May 24, 2000

A former priest who had admitted molesting an altar boy in Perth Amboy more than a decade ago has died while serving his sentence at the state's Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel for sex offenders.

Authorities said yesterday Michael Santillo, 50, died of lymphoma, a form of cancer, on May 10 at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, where he was undergoing treatment for his illness.

Santillo was diagnosed with lymphoma shortly before he was sentenced in November for molesting the 13-year-old altar boy in 1987 at the rectory of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy. Before resigning in 1992 to care for ailing parents, Santillo had served in nine churches in the Metuchen and Trenton dioceses.

He pleaded guilty in June to one count of aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to serve up to 10 years at the sex offenders prison. With the encouragement of Superior Court Judge Barnett Hoffman, sitting in New Brunswick, Santillo also admitted molesting two other boys as well.

The assaults took place in October 1987 in the priest's living quarters while the boys were all students at the school attached to the Perth Amboy church. Santillo was charged with assaulting only one of the boys, since the amount of time allowed by law to file additional assault counts had lapsed. Child victims have up to five years after their 18th birthday to file sex crime charges.

When he pleaded guilty, Santillo said he performed oral sex on the altar boy after luring him and his friends to his living quarters, where they viewed pornographic films. He said he also encouraged the boys to participate in a sex contest for money after they viewed the adult video. The prize was $100.

At the time of sentencing, the judge rejected requests for leniency from Santillo and his attorney, who had asked the court to let Santillo remain free so he could take care of his parents in Florida and receive the chemotherapy he needed to treat the lymphoma.

Santillo's three victims spoke at his sentencing, blaming him for ruining their lives. One victim described how he became withdrawn after the assault and developed a 10-year addiction to heroin.

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

The ex-priest apologized to them and their families. "I just want them to know these were the actions of just one man, and one priest is not the church," he said.

Santillo was very popular with his parishioners, who found it hard to believe the charges against him. They called him "warm-hearted" and a comfort to the sick.

James Kehoe, a member of the Perth Amboy church, yesterday said he had fond memories of Santillo.

"My son worked in the rectory four nights a week (with Santillo). My other son, too. There was never anything untoward," Kehoe said. "He took both my sons to New York for the fireworks."

Santillo was ordained in 1975 and served in parishes throughout Central New Jersey. In Perth Amboy, he was also the administrator for the St. Mary's school system.

When he was arrested in August 1997, he was an administrative assistant at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Schenectady, N.Y.


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