October 26, 2005

Bishop taking case seriously

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Bishop Robert J. McManus, despite initially having been told that the Rev. James J. Aquino was the victim of false accusations, is taking seriously the priest’s admission that he was initially charged with lewd conduct in an adult store in Las Vegas last year.

“There’s no question he’s taking this very seriously,” said Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman. The bishop has not changed his decision to leave Rev. Aquino in his positions as pastor of Our Lady of Loreto Church and director of the diocesan diaconate program, Mr. Delisle said.

According to Las Vegas police, undercover police officers issued a criminal citation to the priest after seeing him masturbating another man for 30 minutes in the Adult Super Store.

Rev. Aquino told several hundred of his parishioners at his church Monday night that he had made a “very stupid mistake” by entering the store, but that he “never engaged in any sexual activity of any kind.” He said he spent only 5 to 10 minutes in the store before he was approached by two men who identified themselves as police and told him to follow them to the parking lot. There he was detained, but never arrested or taken to the police station, he said.

Bishop McManus last week said he learned of the Las Vegas incident earlier this year but was advised by Rev. Aquino’s lawyer that the allegations were false and were later dismissed by the Justice Court.

However, court records, verified yesterday by a court spokeswoman in Las Vegas, show the case was dismissed after Rev. Aquino pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, did community service, sought counseling and stayed out of trouble. He was initially charged with lewd conduct and giving false information to a police officer.

The bishop said last week that in light of information provided by Rev. Aquino’s lawyer, Rev. Aquino would continue in ministry and continue to head the diaconate program. Mr. Delisle said yesterday he could not say more about the bishop’s response to the latest revelations contradicting the priest’s explanation, except that the bishop was taking the situation seriously.

Stephen G. Brady, president of a group called the Roman Catholic Faithful, notified Patricia O’Leary Engdahl, who formerly headed the diocesan Office for Healing and Prevention, of the charges against Rev. Aquino in an e-mail sent on March 10.

He said Ms. Engdahl replied that she had sent his e-mail to Rev. Aquino and that she also told Bishop McManus about it. “He has spoken with the civil authorities in Las Vegas. The bishop is appropriately addressing the matter,” she said in her reply, according to Mr. Brady. Daniel E. Dick of Worcester, victim support coordinator for Worcester Voice of the Faithful, brought the information about Rev. Aquino to the bishop’s attention. In an Oct. 17 letter to Mr. Dick, the bishop quoted Rev. Aquino’s lawyer as writing to the bishop that the lawyer “cannot and will not divulge matters of a confidential nature, which affect innocent, honest individuals.”

According to the bishop’s quotation, the lawyer said, however, that he was aware of the alleged incident “and have investigated the facts and circumstances associated with it.” The bishop’s letter to Mr. Dick said that the lawyer had written that the charges made against Rev. Aquino were false and “subsequently dismissed” by the court.

Mr. Dick said he cannot understand how a bishop could accept a lawyer’s assessment when the arrest report said that both men were issued criminal citations. Mary T. Jean of Leominster, who operates the Web site of Worcester Voice, was critical of Rev. Aquino for telling parishioners that the Catholic organizations that worked to get the information out to the public were “priest-hating.” A lifelong Catholic, Ms. Jean said she does not hate priests. She said her issue is safety of children and acting against clergy misconduct.

The court documents were posted on her site at www.worcestervoice.com. Established in 2002, the site deals only with allegations of clergy misconduct in the Worcester diocese.

Posted by kshaw at October 26, 2005 07:42 AM