October 25, 2005

Rev. Aquino delivers apology

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— The Rev. James Aquino, pastor of Our Lady of Loreto Parish and former superintendent of Catholic schools, stood on the church altar last night and told parishioners he had made a “very stupid mistake” by entering a sex store in Las Vegas but denied having sex with anyone despite being charged with lewd conduct.

“I want you to know,” he told several hundred parishioners gathered at the Massasoit Road church, “that I never, never, never engaged in any sexual activity of any kind. I was never arrested, I was never handcuffed and I was never taken to the police station.”

Rev. Aquino, 66, was given a standing ovation from the parishioners and was later praised as a compassionate, energetic priest, “the best pastor we’ve ever had,” in the words of one woman.

He acknowledged receiving a citation for lewd conduct, obstructing and providing false information on Oct. 21, 2004, while vacationing in Las Vegas with Monsignor Louis P. Piermarini, calling the charges “false accusations.”

After a nearly 11-month continuance, the charges were dismissed Sept. 6 in the Justice Court of Las Vegas during which Rev. Aquino met several conditions, including counseling and 50 hours of community service.

“It’s done, it’s finished, everything’s behind me. It’s over,” Rev. Aquino said.

He said he was ordered to keep quiet about the incident by Bishop Robert J. McManus and his lawyer but took to the altar last night because “I wanted to speak to my people personally. I wanted to clear my name.”

Anthony A. Froio, Rev. Aquino’s lawyer, called the citation “like a traffic ticket.”

Speaking from the altar, Mr. Froio said Rev. Aquino had adamantly refused an offer from the prosecutor to drop the charge from lewd conduct to disorderly conduct. A police document posted on three Web sites of groups monitoring the Catholic priest sex scandal said two undercover detectives witnessed Rev. Aquino masturbating another man for 30 minutes, “where (store) patrons could observe.”

The Web sites posting the police and court documents are the Worcester Voice of the Faithful, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam and an Illinois group called RCF — the Roman Catholic Faithful.

Rev. Aquino labeled the groups “priest-hating” and said they were interested only in bringing down a priest and a bishop.”

Last week Las Vegas police officials denied a Telegram & Gazette request for the police report, claiming it was not a public record.

According to the police document posted on the Web sites, Rev. Aquino first gave the detectives a false Social Security number before pulling a Massachusetts driver’s license from his shoe. The license showed him wearing a priest collar.

Mr. Froio said the police became more acutely interested in Rev. Aquino once they knew he was a priest. “Fifteen others were detained at the store that day,” he said. Most paid a $250 fine “and that was the end of that.”

Mr. Froio said the counselling condition was met when Rev. Aquino underwent a week of “rigorous, invasive testing” at a site in Maryland. He said he fulfilled his community service by visiting the dying in nursing homes.

“He made a very big mistake by entering the sex store,” Mr. Froio said. “I don’t think he’ll ever do it again.”

Bishop McManus said last week that he was advised earlier this year of “an incident” involving Rev. Aquino that happened in Las Vegas. He said he was advised by the priest’s lawyer that the allegations made against Rev. Aquino were false and were later dismissed by the Justice Court in Las Vegas. The bishop was told that Rev. Aquino was never arrested but was issued a citation on an alleged misdemeanor. The bishop was told the case is now closed.

“In light of the above information, Father James Aquino has continued in his ministry in the Diocese of Worcester as pastor of Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Worcester and as the director of the Diaconate Program. However, this is clearly a serious personnel matter, particularly in light of our Code of Conduct issued in the past year, and it continues to be examined closely,” the bishop said. The Code of Conduct, which the bishop issued a year ago, states that priests and bishops cannot even give the appearance of impropriety.

Rev. Aquino has been at Our Lady of Loreto for 20 years. He directs the Office of the Diaconate, the diocese’s deacon training program and was once superintendent of Catholic schools.

He began his remarkable discourse, kneeling and facing the altar to say the “Hail Mary” which he said embraced sin and sorrow.

“I stand here before you sinful and sorrowful,” Rev. Aquino said.

He said “a very long walk” led him to the Adult Super Store, 3850 W. Tropicana St.

Rev. Aquino said he spent only “five to 10 minutes” in the store when two men approached him, identified themselves as police and told him to follow them to the parking lot where they told he was being detained.

“I said ‘For what?’ and began to argue with them,” Rev. Aquino said. “No one was going to take me away when I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

He said he was ordered by Bishop McManus not to participate in church services over the weekend, an order he reluctantly followed.

Rev. Aquino ended his talk with a prayer and retreated to the front of the church, where he greeted the parishioners “just as I do every Sunday.”

Many embraced and kissed the priest and later generously praised him.

“He’s such a good man,” said Lisa Cosenza.

Her husband, John Cosenza, said, “We’re behind him 100 percent.”

Jean Morse lauded Rev. Aquino for publicly admitting his mistake. “It took tremendous courage,” she said. “I’m proud of him.”

Dianne Potenti said Rev. Aquino is a dynamic pastor. “He’s done a lot for our church,” she said. “We love him.”

On the advice of his lawyer, Rev. Aquino did not talk to the press last night. Today he expects to resume the Florida vacation he interrupted to speak about the incident.

Reporter Kathleen A. Shaw of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed to this report.

Posted by kshaw at October 25, 2005 07:09 AM