No Word of Priest Sent to Brazil
Martins Believed Only One Convicted of Child Sex Abuse in Philly in 30 Years

By Jim Nolan
Philadelphia Daily News
April 27, 2002

Shortly after learning that her son had been sexually molested by his priest, the altar boy's mother made him a promise:

"You might be the first, but you are going to be the last," she told the tearful child.

Five months later, Common Pleas Judge Bernard Avellino asked if he should deport or jail the Rev. Nilo C. Martins, a Catholic priest from Brazil convicted of molesting her son in the rectory of Incarnation of Our Lord Church in Olney on Feb. 2, 1985.

"In one way, he would be put away from society, but in another way he can go back there," the mother told the judge that day, July 18, 1985. "And what can happen there? He might just do it again."

"That is Brazil," Avellino explained.

"He won't be doing it here in the states, that's for sure," the mother said. "But they wouldn't have anything against him there. So, they might let him walk scot-free."

The boy's mother did not know that three months later, on Oct. 17, Avellino would parole Martins after the priest served only five weeks of his 23-46-month sentence, and ship him back to Brazil, ostensibly on an Immigration and Naturalization Service deportation order.

Now, 17 years later, neither the victim's family, nor the criminal-justice system, nor the Philadelphia Archdiocese knows exactly what happened to Martins:

If he remained a priest. If he remained in Brazil. If the trained pediatrician's medical license was revoked. If he victimized another child.

But with a grand jury convened by Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham on diocesan priest sex abuse, the church - and the system - are going to need to come up with answers.

In the case of Father Nilo C. Martins, that might not be easy.

The last word on him came from a Brazilian relative who wrote to Martins' lawyer a month after his release to thank him, saying the priest was on a yearlong religious retreat.

There is even some discrepancy on whether the pedophile priest was officially deported by the INS.

Deportation of foreign nationals who have committed major crimes is a routine function of the INS. Typically, though, deportation occurs after a criminal has served his jail sentence in the states. And the process can take weeks, or months.

Yesterday, however, a Philadelphia INS spokeswoman said the agency had no record of deporting Martins.

Yesterday, Martins' lawyer, Joseph Bongiovanni III, recalled a strange parole hearing that he had been immediately summoned to by Avellino, at which the judge granted his motion to release and deport the priest.

When Bongiovanni showed up in court, he said a representative of the D.A.'s office was there as well. Bongiovanni recalled two men in the back of the room wearing dark suits. One of the men had a yellow envelope with paperwork and a plane ticket inside.

"He's getting deported in five minutes," Avellino said to all present, according to Bongiovanni. "You're not going to object, are you?"

"Can I get my coat [back at the prison]?" Martins asked, according to his lawyer.

The men in the suits said no. "I gave him $40 or $50 bucks out of my pocket, and he was literally walked right out the door," Bongiovanni recalled.

"I supposed he was happier being deported than being in prison."

Martins is believed to be the only priest in the last 30 years to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for child sex abuse in Philadelphia.

The archdiocese has declined comment on specific cases, including that of Martins. Avellino died in November 2000.

Bongiovanni said the archdiocese had not financed the defense of Martins, who came to the United States in 1984 from the Catholic church in Brazil with hopes of becoming a permanent citizen and practicing medicine and his faith.

But after Martins' arrest, the church sent him to its psychiatric hospital, Villa St. Joseph's in Downingtown. And at Martin's sentencing, transcripts indicate the church psychiatrist said Martins did "not pose a threat to society," and did "not believe further incarceration would be at all helpful."

Court records indicate that as part of the agreement for Martins' pleading guilty to sexual abuse of the altar boy, the district attorney's office agreed to make no recommendation at the time of sentencing.

"He was probably an embarrassment to everybody," said Bongiovanni, who called his client's criminal actions "an outrageous thing."

"I guess it was convenient to get rid of him."

Contact: Jim Nolan


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